Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ Media and information literacy (MIL) equips citizens with competencies needed to seek and enjoy the full benefits of this fundamental human right. The realization of this right is reinforced by the Grünwald Declaration of 1982, which recognizes the need for political and educational systems to promote citizens’ critical understanding of ‘the phenomena of communication’ and their participation in media (new and old). It is further reinforced by the Alexandria Declaration of 2005, which places media and information literacy at the core of lifelong learning. It recognizes how MIL ’empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.’
Media and other information providers such as libraries, archives and the Internet are widely recognized as essential tools for helping citizens to make informed decisions. They are also the means by which societies learn about themselves, maintain public discourses, and build a sense of community. Media and information channels can have a major impact on lifelong learning, and therefore citizens need a basic knowledge of the functions of media and other information providers and how to assess them. The purpose of media and information literacy is to impart this knowledge to the users. Media and information literacy embodies essential knowledge about (a) the functions of media, libraries, archives and other information providers in democratic societies, (b) the conditions under which news media and information providers can effectively perform those functions, and (c) how to evaluate the performances of these functions by assessing the content and services they offer. This knowledge should, in turn, allow users to engage with media and information channels in a meaningful manner. The competencies acquired through media and information literacy can equip citizens with critical thinking skills enabling them to demand high-quality services from media and other information providers. Collectively, they foster an enabling environment in which media and other information providers can provide quality services. Clearly, given their geographical and cultural ubiquity, the news media assume a more pronounced place in this curriculum and competency framework than other media. They represent a multifaceted system of information flows. As an institution, news media have specific functions that they are expected to fulfill in democratic societies. By tradition, broadcast media – because of their ubiquity and the scarcity of spectrum – have been regulated to ensure balance, whereas print media have not. Systems of self-regulation have developed in the news media as an alternative to state regulation to provide some accountability to the wider public interest.
This system of self-regulation is underpinned by particular ethical values and principles. As such, the public has a specific expectation of news media, making them liable to public criticism if they do not perform according to that expectation. This framework thus provides a lens through which news media can be assessed in terms of their functions, the conditions under which they perform those functions, and the ways in which their output is appropriated by the audience. Enhancing MIL among students requires that teachers themselves become media and information literate. This initial focus on teachers is a key strategy to achieving a multiplier effect: from information-literate teachers to their students and eventually to society at large. Media and information literate teachers will have enhanced capacities to empower students with their efforts in learning to learn, learning autonomously, and pursuing lifelong learning. By educating students to become media and information literate, teachers would be responding first to their role as advocates of an informed and rational citizenry, and second, they would be responding to changes in their role as educators, as teaching moves away from being teacher-centred to becoming more learner-centred.
Teachers are more likely to embrace the MIL curriculum if it connects with pedagogical strategies that improve how they teach traditional school subjects. Fostering the changes in the education sector that would result from the introduction of MIL and their impact on teacher professional development are important goals of this curriculum and competency