The national conference “Media Literacy in Bulgaria. What We Learned from the Crisis”, organized by the Media Literacy Coalition and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, took place on October 29, 2020, in Sofia. Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Culture, Active Citizens Fund, American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria (AmCham Bulgaria), German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AHK Bulgarien), Bulgarian Association of Software Companies (BASSCOM), Branch Association of Bulgarian Telecommunications Operators (BABTO) and the Bulgarian Public Relations Association (BDVO) supported the event, with most of the organizations and the two ministries joining the forum with their representatives. The Minister of Culture Boil Banov, represented by the expert from the Ministry Axenia Boneva, and the Deputy Minister of Education and Science – Dr Petar Nikolov – took part in the opening panel of the conference, and Daniel Kiryakov from AmCham Bulgaria, Bistra Papazova from BASSCOM, Petar Rizov from BABTO/NET1 and Dilyana Stoyanova from AHK Bulgarien/Unicredit Bulbank – in the panel discussion “From a business point of view”
Kristina Hristova, the Chair of the Media Literacy Coalition, and Martin Kotee, Regional Director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, opened the conference with key speeches on the importance of media literacy and the significance of the conference as the first forum of its kind where all stakeholders can exchange ideas, good practices and identify areas in which they can work together for the development of media literacy of Bulgarian citizens of all ages.
“This conference is a success already and this success belongs to you. This conference brings together people that don’t usually speak with each other. The teachers, the journalists, the politicians, administration experts, business people, NGOs, industry association and civil society groups. Bringing together such a group is something special“, Mr Kotev addressed the participants and guests. “We are hear ready to learn each other’s language, so to speak. And we are doing something that became a rarity these days – we aim to understand what motivates and drives people that are operating in a world that is different from our owns. This alone makes this special.”
After officially supported the Media Literacy Days 2020 campaign, the two ministries that develop media literacy policies – the education and science one and the Ministry of culture – sent representatives to the conference.
“It is extremely important for the Ministry of Education and Science to invest great efforts in creating a generation in Bulgaria that will not fall victim to one or another manipulation tomorrow, a generation that can distinguish the right from the wrong and can make conscious, reasonable, meaningful choice. For this reason, all of you who are committed to the cause will have our full support”, declared the Deputy Minister of Education and Science Dr. Petar Nikolov in his speech, after expressing regret on behalf of Minister Krassimir Valchev that has been unable to attend in person.
“As you heard from Martin, we have a quite diverse audience, and that is extremely important to emphasise because civil society and independent media outlets play a very very essential role. It’s not just the education system, or families, or parents who teach their kids to be critical thinkers but its civil society and independent media. They are the watchdogs as we call them. We need their help to identify and counter threats that are posed by malicious actors that are looking to tear the very fabric of society. And civil society and independent media also need to be an integral part, to educate the general public, to expose the misinformation and only then will people be able to tell reliable words from suspicious ones. […]
Here I again emphasise that a robust private media sector, a robust publicly funded media are foundational to democracy.[…] And I promise you that we in the Embassy will continue to work with you on promoting independent media and also media literacy. […] Christina, you are the chair of the Media Literacy Coalition, and you just have done so much to organize innovative projects in this field and for I want to congratulate you. And I salute each and everyone of you for coming together today, for coming together to strength misinformation. In doing this, you make Bulgaria stronger, and we stand with you in this effort. We are partners as I always say – your strength is our strength. And we look forward to future cooperation with you and all other Bulgarians who share this goal. We are stronger together. And together we can make a difference.
“Media literacy can no longer just be a soft skill. It has to be an essential skill and even more it has to be urgent one because even as the ambassador said this morning critical thinking will be required for us to build resistance to fake news”, said Dr. Jane Muita – UNICEF Representative for Bulgaria.”Digital competencies will be required to develop resilience, especially when we are physically and socially interconnected; we are not connected physically, but we are connected in different other ways. Emotional intelligence is also required to preserve our mental state. Remember how what is happening to young people as they go through all this content, and a healthy mind is important for changing the world. So at UNICEF, we are trying to reimagine a better world for children young people families communities, especially after this crisis of Covid-19. And we believe that actually, media literacy is one of those core priorities that we have to place in our initiatives. Now if I come back to UNICEF, we’ve been working quite hard within our partnerships, and we have done quite a bit with our colleagues that we have partnered with in both media literacy and development of digital skills because we believe these two are enablers of national human capital.
[…] When we were young we trusted our teachers they’re the only ones who are right, but now there’s too much right out there that you question even the teacher. So how do we help those young people to make the decisions? The last few years we have worked for example with the Association of European Journalists, and our aim in working together is actually to create a critical mass that understands what we can do together to improve the world. With the Association of European Journalists, we looked at ethical reporting on children. This is important because we, as media creators, we have also a responsibility to do it ethically. So this is one of the tools that we have really worked on. With the Media Literacy Coalition, we also created a guidebook for adolescents for content creation because if we are able to create that kind of pool of young people who can create the correct content, then it also makes a difference. With partners like Teen Station and Scoolmedia we did peer-to-peer trainings on digital skills for teenagers. What I’m trying to say is that some of the work that we have done together is in a journey not only to learn ut to have experiences within our own context that we can fall back to.”
The Ministry of Culture stated its support and readiness for cooperation both through the speech of Minister Boil Banov and in much more specific dimensions through its expert representative with extensive experience in developing specific measures and initiatives at European level. Minister Banov’s speech was presented by Axenia Boneva – Chair of the working group at the time of the adoption of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which creates an obligation for the Member States to take measures to increase media literacy. Here is what she said to the participants, guests and audience of the conference:
“Media literacy is already an official policy in Bulgaria, which is dealt with by the Ministry of Culture. The Minister of Culture will have commitments to pursue a policy in this area and to report to the European Commission every three years on what is happening. Our goal and what is put as texts in the legislation (AVMSD (EU) 2018/1808) is together with absolutely everyone – the Council for Electronic Media, the departments involved in media literacy, the non-governmental sector, experts, the media themselves, journalists – to form a permanent unit, a network to unite the policy of media literacy so to not be so fragmented. I would be delighted if I could be the shortcut for you to European policies, because this is how interesting initiatives can be taken, both by the Media Literacy Coalition and by the business itself, and from journalists. And if we manage to join forces – at the European level and the Bulgarian level, in order to reach the society more easily, so that the society benefits from these policies, I will be pleased. I will be glad to participate in your initiatives and provide information on what type of funding the European Commission provides.”
The Moldovan diplomat and lecturer at the Technical University of Tallinn, Victor Guzun, presented Estonia’s achievements in digital transformation and innovation, in particular in the field of e-government and education. Estonia is the country in the European Union with the highest scores on the PISA tests, which measure the ability of 15-year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to solve real problems in reading, mathematics and science. In the small Baltic state, an effective e-school system became operational long before the forced transition to distance education in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital competence, whose definition for the purposes of the Estonian education policy covers most of the key aspects of media and information literacy such as the ability to discover and store information and assess its relevance and reliability, and safe online behaviour are integrated into formal education in Estonia. Like H.E. Mustafa, Mr Guzun made his presentation from a distance – live from the Estonian capital.
Simeon Predov from Shkolo.bg and Veselin Dimitrov from Forbes Bulgaria, who also acted as a moderator, appeared on the stage together with Bistra Papazova, Dilyana Stoyanova, Petar Rizov and Daniel Kiryakov for a discussion about the intersection between the interests and goals of businesses, the criteria by which they choose the beneficiaries of their programs for social corporate responsibility, and the mission of organizations developing projects in the field. You can watch the entire panel in the video above.