Information wars, fake news and misleading posts are part of our daily lives, with a very small percentage of readers recognizing them. What is the level of media literacy in our country? What are the dangers of misinformation and how to deal with it? We spoke with Iglika Ivanova from the Media Literacy Coalition to find out the answers to these and other questions.
Iglika holds a PhD from the Department of European Studies at the University of "St. Kliment Ohridski" and has majored in "Media Policy and EU Law". She has many years of experience in the creation and distribution of media content. During 2019-2020, she was part of the editorial team of the weekly online journalistic magazine "Toest. Since the beginning of 2020, she has actively participated in the development of educational resources, in the implementation of KM initiatives and campaigns, and maintains the Gramoten.li website. Iglika is part of the leadership team of the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.
1. Tell us a little more about the Media Literacy Coalition and how it came to be?
The Media Literacy Coalition was created in 2017 in response to the emerging negative consequences of the lack of civic and media education in the general education program. Since 2019, the Coalition has been registered as a non-profit association for public benefit, whose main goal is to contribute to the development of media literacy of Bulgarian citizens of all ages and social groups. We work on the implementation of this goal: through civil society projects, which form the largest share of our activity.
Also through supporting the development of methodologies for teaching digital media literacy. We conduct training programs for teachers and mentors. We explain and popularize the importance of media literacy, perform organizational and coordination activities to attract, inform, engage and support all interested parties - institutions, organizations and citizens working in the field of media literacy. We coordinate and disseminate opinions on behalf of our members; adapt and create educational and training resources. We conduct surveys and research related to both good practices and deficits within and outside the formal education system and based on their results we prepare recommendations.
Members of the Coalition are people who participated in the founding of the association, experts working on the topic of media literacy, organizations and legal entities working in the field of education, media, civic participation. Among the members of the Coalition are Prof. Neli Ognyanova, Prof. Georgi Lozanov, Assoc. Prof. Orlin Spasov, the long-time head of the Safe Internet Center Georgi Apostolov, journalists and founders of other organizations of the civil sector, and its chairman since its creation is Kristina Hristova - co-founder and member of the CS of AEZ-Bulgaria, and currently the program manager of the Factcheck Bulgaria project.
Projects such as Teen Station and COOL Media, which are among the very few in Bulgaria, giving students the opportunity to express themselves and develop as journalists and creators of media content right from high school, are part of our network, along with organizations such as the Center for Creative Education, the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria, the Association for Career Development, etc. I take this opportunity to say that the Coalition is open to new members - both individuals and organizations who want to develop any of the activities I have previously listed in order to help us achieve our main goal.
2. In the summer, you shared the results of the First National Survey of Digital Media Literacy of Students in Bulgaria. What is the situation with misinformation among them, and in general - among other age groups?
Yes, on June 15th we presented the results of a pilot testing of digital media competencies of 10th graders from 176 classes across the country at a Launchee press conference broadcast live on the Coalition's Facebook page. It was held at the very beginning of 2022 in accordance with a new pre-tested and improved methodology within the project "Integral approach to the development of students' media literacy", which we have been implementing with the financial support of the "Active Citizens" fund. We presented the methodology to the Ministry of Education and Science as a tool to further bring the European framework in the field of digital technologies to schools and to regularly measure the levels of related cognitive skills among Bulgarian students. They relate more to the nature and functionalities of ICT and are skills within the scope of digital, not so much of media literacy. Although media, information and digital literacy are closely related there is some partial overlap between them there are also significant differences, so it is important to make this distinction and to understand and explain very clearly what is being measured.
The analytical report presenting the goals, context and applicability of this testing is published in its entirety without access restrictions on the website of the Media Literacy Coalition (in the Resources/Research section), along with reports on previous studies we have conducted over the past 2-3 years - among teachers, students, parents. I would say that it is good for these studies to be considered as complementary in terms of the overall picture of the media literacy in Bulgaria and the presence (or absence) of conditions for its development both in formal education and through informal education.
In addition to our data, we also look at pan-European comparative studies such as the Monitoring of Media Pluralism and the Media Literacy Index, the annual editions of which we publish on the Coalition's website, and which, alas, reveal an alarming picture of a difficult push from the bottom in many of the indicators related to media literacy, and more generally to the quality of education, the media-information environment and civic participation. I would not be able to answer with data and verifiable claims about the disinformation situation among students and senior citizens, as we do not directly measure the ability of students, nor of adults, to identify content that meets the definition of disinformation. And, to be honest, very few people understand the exact meaning of this concept - why it is important to look for intent in any message that conveys anything other than objective, verified and factually correct information. What we do is examine the skills related to a person's ability to seek, interpret and evaluate the information, to form an understanding and attitude about matters of interest, including issues on the political and media agenda. We also track the conditions, the environment - if there are enough policies, are they adequate, are they implemented, is their impact measured, how are the various stakeholders positioned and how engaged are they in consistent and sustainable actions to promote critical thinking and civic participation of people.
From all that has been said so far, you can probably conclude that we have a lot of work to do. Yes, we have done a lot of work and we could say that what has been done is useful and lays a good foundation for further construction, but the most difficult is yet to come. That is why creating, maintaining, expanding and strengthening a network of organizations in the field, such as the Media Literacy Coalition, is of critical importance. Systematic, competent and coordinated efforts and people are needed to demand accountability - from the state, from the institutions, from the supervisory authorities.
3. What are the media literacy trainings you conduct? Is there interest in them and are you facing any difficulties?
The interest is great and it is a reason for optimism - it is constantly growing, which is visible from the increase of the training programs, their geographical scope, the attraction of new partners and participants, the feedback we receive and which people voluntarily share in order to promote our trainings.
The difficulties in organizing any kind of initiatives, for the implementation of which you rely on a partner(s), are related to good communication and coordination, allocating the necessary resources, including time and resources reaching the people for whom they are intended.
We have had a very successful year in this regard, which we owe a great deal to the Lachezar Tsotsorkov Foundation, which does much more than just fund our Media Literacy Online - Lifelong Learning program and we can actually call them our partner. Together we worked to attract and train new trainers for the program after holding a competition among the journalists. I appreciate and express my gratitude to our local partners - community centers, libraries, municipal administrations - without their participation and desire to develop activities such as these, similar programs would not be possible. We conducted a program separately with a local scope - only in Sofia - supported by the Lozenets District with the financial support of the "Europe" 2021 Program of the Metropolitan Municipality "Academy for Adults" which we report as successful.
As the names of these training programs suggest, they are aimed at the elderly - mostly people over 55 years of age, but not only. In addition to working directly with citizens, we work with employees in cultural and municipal institutions to expand the network of mentors. In return, they organize and conduct such trainings.
The main topics of the trainings are - Why are we vulnerable to propaganda, what distinguishes disinformation from journalistic errors, how to navigate more confidently in the world of digital and social media, so that we recognize the origin and purpose of the content we discover and inundate us daily, how to better protect the privacy of our personal lives, including of our personal data, how to expose those who in one way or another try to mislead us. And what is particularly important - these topics actually represent training goals with a practical dimension, because within three, three and a half hours, the participants in these trainings do not just familiarize themselves with the concepts and learn a lot of new things, but also directly participate in the discovery and analysis of examples, check and improve their skills in interacting with content and with other people online and discuss with each other their personal experiences and strategies for countering all forms of manipulation.
We also conduct training for teachers, such as the "Media literacy through my subject" program courses, during which we are fortunate to meet motivated, dedicated and extremely active representatives of the teaching profession. These are people, many of them from very small towns far from the capital, who we call "Digital Stars" and who we see as like-minded people and ambassadors of our mission - to make education in Bulgaria more suitable and adequate to the challenges and opportunities that the development of the information society in the 21st century offers.
4. Misleading publications, fake news, media with unknown authors - in general, the media environment is very toxic. It is clear that efforts must be directed at adolescents and their parents. Would you give advice where media literacy should start?
Efforts should be aimed at adolescents and their parents, but not only. No less efforts and an adequate approach are needed to quickly and effectively increase the media literacy of all other groups in society.
Although the change was made before I joined, to me renaming the Coalition from the Media Literacy Coalition in Education to its current more general name, makes sense, given the expansion of the focus of the organization and the needs of our society, which are not aimed only to the introduction of media literacy into the educational process. Moreover, despite the positive development in this direction, it is not a fact, and it could not be, to the extent that it is necessary, before all participants in the learning process, and in particular teachers, are covered. And when I say that, I don't just mean increasing the understanding, knowledge and skills of the teachers themselves regarding media content, recognition of misinformation and fact-checking skills, awareness of the role and importance of the media in a democratic society. Which, of course, is an important enough and transformative goal in itself. To develop these skills, understandings and attitudes in students through subject learning in formal education, not just through civic education.
That was introduced two years ago, but only for grades 11 and 12. Complete rethinking and reconfiguration is required of the learning process and teaching methods. So there is a lot of work here, and this work is mainly in the field of education policy in the country.
But no less important and responsible is the role of the media regulators, of the businesses that have the capacity to provide the opportunity for their employees to increase their abilities - not only how to use information and communication technologies on a daily basis for quality performance of their official duties but also how to discover, analyze, evaluate and create media content competently and responsibly.
Additionally - how to be aware, full-fledged and conscientious participants in the public sphere and in democratic processes. Important part of it is the election of representatives in parliament, in the presidency or in local government, which requires the ability to make independent informed decisions with the best interest of the whole society in mind. It seems that both the media and businesses do not understand well enough that increasing the media literacy of people in adulthood, as well as of those who are leaving the education system, is in their interest, and this interest has economic dimensions.
5. You have selected Launchee as the location from which to present and broadcast the survey results. Do you think you reached a wider audience this way?
The press conference where we presented the results of the survey mid-June was the first Coalition-organized event we held at Launchee. In September and October, we held two more conferences, and that, I think, speaks volumes about the added value Launchee brings as the place to physically welcome our guests.
The expansion of our audience may also be due to increased recognition of the Coalition, good communication with the target groups and the support of partners and like-minded people. But more importantly, so far, every person who has attended and participated in the organization of the Coalition of Media Literacy event has expressed, like us, a very high appreciation for the conditions, atmosphere and aesthetics at Launchee.
This is the place to mention that as nice and inspiring as it is to welcome colleagues and guests to events, it is so important to be able to fully rely on your partner, which for us is Launchee, in terms of technical expertise and execution. And, yes, without a doubt, if you don't have reliable technical support to guarantee quality streaming on the platforms of your choice, it will negatively impact your audience not only for the current event you are broadcasting, but also for the next ones. With such a saturation of events, people can easily give up one for another based on their previous impressions of your events.
So in conclusion, I can only thank Launchee for the attitude and professionalism and wish you to host many significant events that will have a positive effect on our society.