Highlights from the 2021 National Conference \“Media Literacy against Disinformation\“

The importance of media literacy for the resilience of Bulgarian society against the negative impact of disinformation and all forms of manipulation of public opinion and the need for its consistent and continuous development throughout life were the focus of the national conference of the Media Literacy Coalition in 2021. The event was held on December 2 in Sofia in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education and Science, UNICEF Bulgaria, the Lachezar Tsotzorkov Foundation, the Embassy of the United States in Bulgaria and the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Martina Chapman from Media Literacy Ireland, Christina de Bruin from UNICEF, the US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa, Martin Kothé from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and experts from Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education and Science took part in the conference with speeches. During the three panel discussions, 14 representatives of civil society organizations, educational and academic institutions, libraries and community centers, independent media, and private companies discussed the challenges faced by various actors with a role in developing media literacy of Bulgarian citizens.

What is media and information literacy? Why is it important? Who’s job is it? What does collaboration look like?

In her 15-minute presentation, the first keynote speaker of the conference – Mrs Martina Chapman – addressed each of these interrelated issues. She is the national coordinator of Media Literacy Ireland – an independent association of members committed to the promotion of media literacy across Ireland, a consultant in media literacy policy development and implementation with many years of experience and expertise developed and recognised beyond the borders of Ireland. She is also co-author of one of the most important pan-European studies in media literacy – Mapping of media literacy practices and actions in the European Union, produced by the European Audiovisual Observatory for the Council of Europe and published in 2018. With concrete examples of some of the most successful projects and campaigns implemented in Ireland in recent years, Martina Chapman demonstrated what are the most important elements and necessary conditions for bringing the importance of media literacy to the agenda.

Whose job is media literacy? Everyone – civil society, community organisations, academic institutions, public authorities, media, commercial bodies, online platforms.

Be Media Smart is an initiative that encourages people to stop, think and check whether the information they are reading, seeing or hearing is trustworthy and accurate. These logos represent Media Literacy Ireland members (more than 200 by 2021, representing a wide range of sectors, supported by Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) who have been actively involved in developing and supporting the campaign in line with their areas of expertise.

And you will note that most of them are media organisations – who are a critical partner in terms of raising awareness of media literacy issues and signposting people to sources of support.“.

Watch Martina Chapman\’s presentation at the Media Literacy Against Misinformation conference here:

\“This national conference is a testimony that we are all in this together and that media literacy is everyone’s business! I am saluting the Coalition for Media Literacy for choosing the theme of “Disinformation” as a focus of this crucial event. It has direct implications on our skills, work, education, national security and even personal health and survival… as seen in the pandemic“, started her address Christina de Bruin – UNICEF Representative for Bulgaria.

In her presentation, Mrs De Bruin presented the main conclusions and recommendations on countering misinformation, based on the 2021 report by UNICEF and three researchers from Oxford University, \“Digital misinformation / disinformation and children\“, and resources developed by UNICEF together with the international organization\’s partners to support policy and programme development for education and training purposes. Watch Christina de Bruin\’s speech from the Media Literacy Against Misinformation conference here:

\“We are here to discuss a really important topic – disinformation. And I am honored to be able to open this session with a distinguished panel of experts many of whom I know and I\’ve got great great respect for – journalists, communication experts, professors. So i\’m very excited that they will be on this panel\“, said H.E. Herro Mustafa at the opening of the first of the three panel discussions at the conference – \“Media Misinformation and its Consequences\“. She was also a keynote speaker in the previous edition of the conference – in 2020, which she joined remotely via a direct connection from the US Embassy in Sofia. This year, Ambassador Mustafa was among the narrow circle (respecting the requirements of the health authorities) of guests physically present at the conference hall and delivered a speech in which she emphasized the negative impact of disinformation on public trust in the media and institutions, the responsibility that public figures bear when choosing what messages to send to citizens and what means to use against their opponents, thus setting an example for everyone else, and the key role of independent media.

No one country is immune from disinformation […] Disinformation decreases trust in public institutions, sows conflict between societies, increases hate, and undermines democratic institutions… Speak the truth, stand by the truth, set that example, and teach others the same“, Ambassador Mustafa called in her speech.

Watch the video recording of H.E. Mustafa address here:

In the role of moderator of the discussion Dr. Vesislava Antonova made the introduction to the topic and presented the official position of the Commission for Journalistic Ethics: \“In the last year, the Commission for Journalistic Ethics, which has been functioning in Bulgaria for a long time – since 2005, and which deals with cases related to the Bulgarian media, submitted as complaints to us, we have found that according to the complaints we receive, the way the pandemic is being reported in the media in Bulgaria is quite problematic. There are a lot of complaints, people are worried even about the choice of interlocutors in the television studios, because television is the most powerful medium nowadays and in Bulgaria it has not changed its role as the most powerful communicator. In this position paper we recalled that the duty of the journalist is to seek the truth\“.

What is the role of the media in the low vaccination coverage in Bulgaria? How do projects such as Factcheck Bulgaria and Chronicles of Infandemic deal with disinformation and myth-busting? How should public authorities respond and communicate with citizens during a crisis of the severity and magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic? Who should be and who are the actual architects of the digital crowd? Why can\’t we have a society in solidarity, capable of dealing with the risks of modernity, until we have institutions, media and educated citizens who understand and take responsibility?

Within one school hour (45 minutes), the participants in the first panel discussion analysed these issues and proposed approaches based on scientific facts, best practices and knowledge of the problems of the media and information environment. Watch the recording of the panel \“Media disinformation and its consequences\“ here:

\“This has been the most inspiring round that we had so far. It wasn\’t a panel discussion in which everybody is just reading of statements as there used to be telling everybody, but you all really had a real conversation\“. This is how Martin Kothe – Director for Bulgaria of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Southeast Europe – evaluated the second panel of the conference \“Media literacy against misinformation\“ on \“Media literacy through every subject live and online\“. Together with the Chair of the Media Literacy Coalition – Kristina Hristova – Martin Kothe opened the event with a short speech about the disintegration of the social fabric resulting from the transformation of reality into an industrial product and the saturation of the information space with untruths and propaganda.

Panelists of the discussion were Angel Georgiev – founder of Znam.be, teacher of informatics and information technology, leading trainer of teachers and seniors of the Media Literacy Coalition; Antoaneta Vassileva – expert and trainer of the National Center for Safe Internet, expert in the field of human rights; Ekaterina Russeva – expert in the field of educational innovation and head of Shkolo Academy in Shkolo.bg, and Natalia Miteva – Education and Social Impact Manager at Telelink Business Services and member of the Innovation Committee at the Ministry of Education and Science.

Yana Peeva – editor-in-chief at the youth media Teen Station – both moderated and participated in the discussion, giving the perspective of young people born in the new century. Yana graduated from high school in Bulgaria in 2021, but in an educational institution that offers an alternative to formal education in the country, and has the experience and insights of the challenges faced by both the teachers and the students themselves.

\“It\’s also extremely important for us to know that students are getting proper media literacy education because our media outlet works with students who create media content. It is important in this context that they actually know how to work with media content so that they can also create it more interactively and more easily for themselves,\“ said Jana, introducing the panelists. And after her job as a moderator was over, she introduced Teen Station\’s new project, Next Station – the next step for the project, which brings together and gives a platform to more than 250 students from across the country with interests and potential in making digital media.

An introduction to the topic of this panel was made by Tatiana Predova, expert at the Ministry of Education and Science:

If before the main challenge was to have access to information, now we find ourselves in a vast sea of information and education is actually benefiting from this fact, but at the same time the challenge we face today is to prepare adolescents and young people to sort out the really true and scientific information from that which misinforms them. And as the Ministry of Education and Science uses the competency approach to develop digital competency skills through the national education standards […], the Ministry of Education and Science has issued a guide for teachers to implement this approach and has given guidelines on the different competencies, including the development of digital-media competency, so that educational institutions can develop their decentralised policy to achieve this literacy in students using both compulsory and free elective classes. […] Leading the way is an understanding of the importance of critical thinking to students\’ emotional, cognitive, social, and civic development. The main challenge for all of us is to prepare them for the digital world, which, as we talked about in the first panel, is the world they mostly inhabit.\“

The participants in the discussion examined the topic of media literacy in education, the methods of teaching it and the reforms that the education system needs to catch up with the rapid development of information and communication technologies and be able to prepare new generations for personal and professional realization in a world so saturated with media products and messages.

Watch a video of that panel here:

What is the role of the community centres and libraries in developing the competences of Bulgarian citizens of all ages, including the digital and media literacy of older people? What resources do they need to be more effective and to ensure the sustainability of programmes to promote lifelong learning? How do these institutions interact with CSOs and what are the best practices on which to build a comprehensive strategy for engaging community centres and libraries in implementing media literacy policy? Is it more difficult for people born shortly after and before the middle of the last century to be literate according to the modern concept of (multi)literacy and the expanded meaning of functional reading? What needs to be done to develop their literacy? What are successful methods to change their attitudes towards the need for continuous lifelong learning, regardless of occupational field and social status?

Their experience of interacting with people from all over the country who felt the need to develop their media and information literacy and improve their digital skills shared Mirolyuba Benatova – an independent journalist, winner of numerous prestigious awards, part of the team of the TV1 show \“The Questions\“, lecturer to students and chief trainer of seniors and media literacy mentors under the Media Literacy Coalition\’s programs; Spaska Tarandova – Executive Director of the Global Libraries Bulgaria Foundation, member of the Bulgarian Library and Information Association and the Standing Committee of the Public Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations; and Vehbie Baliyeva – Specialist Librarian at the Regional Library \“P. Svetlina-2021, part of the Svetlina Education Group in Sofia.

Before their appearance on the podium, a short speech was given by Akseniya Boneva, State Expert in the Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture with the portfolio of audiovisual policy. She also presented the role of the Ministry in the implementation of the policy for the development of media literacy of Bulgarian citizens, which is in the competence of this institution, but will be implemented as a horizontal policy through intersectoral partnership with the participation of all stakeholders.

\“In my previous participation in the national conference of the Media Literacy Coalition and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in 2020, I told you that legislative changes regarding media literacy are coming. Today they are already a fact. As Martina Chapman also mentioned, the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive has already been implemented in Bulgaria. But this is where the policies end and the path to implement them begins. And talking about this path, there was one word that echoed in my mind in the previous panels, and that word is \’together\’. Because when the policy is written down on a piece of paper, come the people with a cause who have to turn it into action. The Media Literacy Council of the Minister of Culture is a fact. I am very grateful for the enthusiasm of the members of the Media Literacy Coalition, who in turn represent the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria, the Safer Internet Centre, etc. I see here people with whom we have worked together, with whom we are working together, and with whom I hope we will work together,\“ said Ms Boneva, who is the representative for Bulgaria in the European Commission\’s Media Literacy Working Group and chairs the Media Literacy Expert Council formed earlier in 2021.

\“I would like to thank the Media Literacy Coalition, and in particular Mirolyuba Benatova, who was a lecturer at the media literacy mentorship training I took (in the spring of 2021), for getting me going in this direction – to think about how important media literacy is for children, for young people, for people my age, and for older people. It led me to look for some kind of connection, intersection, what we could do to meet the experiences of adults with the competencies of young people addressed by the previous panelists; how we can unite the efforts of both age groups so that both sides can benefit\“, said Dr. Vehbie Baliyeva, presenting at the same time one of the priority areas in the program of the community center \“Svetlina-2021\“ led by her and the effectiveness of the trainings under the program \“Media Literacy Online – Lifelong Learning\“ of the Media Literacy Coalition.

\“These trainings are very inspiring – these meetings in libraries and community centres are wonderful, especially when they are held in person\“, shared her impressions, attitude and approach in working with seniors on the ground and online journalist Mirolyuba Benatova. She became part of the Media Literacy Coalition\’s media literacy training team in spring 2021 and will lead the majority of the trainings in the Media Literacy Online – Lifelong Learning programme, implemented by the Coalition with the support of the Lachezar Tsotzorkov Foundation, in 2022.

\“People need to be listened to – in fact, this is something very important in the training process. To be allowed the space to hear who is sitting opposite, what they have to tell you, what bothers and confuses them. And actually our effort in these trainings is to create a sense of a safe environment where there are no bad questions, no mistakes, there is sharing, discussing, arguing and coming to some conclusions together.

It\’s paramount to me that people don\’t feel reprimanded as stupid, as misunderstood, as low literate, because in fact in our desire to be \“socially correct\“ and give the right answers we are actually living in an imitative environment and then secretly succumbing to sins. Information and sharing wrong information is also one of the great temptations. And so what we try to do in these trainings is to explain the mechanisms by which information affects us, to forgive ourselves that we are emotional human beings and we are susceptible to anything that is contrived to tempt us, and to try to take a step to the side, to live a little more mindfully and consciously in this world full of temptations, informational ones included.

It is very important for the elderly to understand that the Internet environment is getting closer and closer to the analogue world in which we grew up, to be aware of the dangers that lurk on the Internet, to be more aware and to live more calmly in the Internet environment as they are used to outside it\“, said Mirolyuba Benatova.

\“What we have been working on for the last 10 years is to make libraries access points to the global information space. Our 1,000 libraries have 3 to 5 computers so they can educate people of all ages who, for one reason or another, don\’t have their own devices. There are many smaller towns and villages where the only social place that makes it possible to use the Internet is the library. […]

As an informal learning environment, we aim to provide children with this fun, entertaining element (of online gaming) in addition to encouraging them to discover and use educational content. What needs to be done for public libraries across the country is to update this facility that\’s from 10 years ago when over 5,000 computers were installed, and we\’re looking at solutions like that. And on the other hand, it\’s important for us to continuously increase the knowledge of library professionals, and for that reason we\’re also working on different projects, developing training resources and we have a training platform.

The last project we implemented was on media literacy in the family, and we developed training materials that they can use directly. The aim is that teenagers don\’t look at their parents as digital nomads and wonder why they use something other than what they use, but to develop a mutual tolerance\“, presented the goals and projects of the Global Libraries-Bulgaria Foundation its president – Spaska Tarandova.

Follow the full discussion during the last, third panel of the conference, here:

See selected moments from the conference \“Media literacy against misinformation\“,
organized by the Media Literacy Coalition and
the Freedom Foundation \“Friedrich Naumann Foundation
in the official conference site\’s gallery.

Related content:

Civil society, businesses, institutions, media and international organizations met at the 2020 National Conference on Media Literacy
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