The way we use media is changing, the volume of information enormous, demanding more of us than being able to read, write or use a computer. The European Commission has recently warned that Europeans young and old could miss out on the benefits of today’s high-tech information society unless more is done to make them ‘media literate’ enough to access, analyse and evaluate images, sounds and texts and use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content. The Commission said EU countries and the media industry need to increase awareness of the many media messages people encounter, be they advertisements, movies or online content.
“Interacting with the media now means a lot more than writing to a newspaper. Media, especially new digital technologies, involve more Europeans in a world of sharing, interaction and creation. Consumers today can create their own content and make new works by transforming third party content,” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “However, people who cannot use new media like social networks or digital TV will find it hard to interact with and take part in the world around them. We must make sure everyone is media literate so nobody is left out. Citizens are being talked to all the time, but can they talk back? If they can use the media in a competent and creative way we would take a step towards a new generation of democratic participation.”
To participate in today’s information society, people need to understand how the various media (old and new) work. This is why the European Commission just adopted (following a call from the European Parliament) policy guidelines calling on EU countries and industry to promote media literacy across Europe through activities that help people access, understand and critically evaluate all media they are exposed to, like TV and film, radio, music, print media, the internet and digital communication technologies.
Media literacy training could improve the way citizens use search engines, show school children how a film is made or how advertising works. In some countries (for example Sweden, Ireland, UK) media literacy is already part of the school curriculum. The UK’s kidSMART website teaches young people how to use social networking sites safely. Education is a national competence, but the Commission today invited EU countries to open a debate on how to give media literacy a prominent place in schools.
People using media need to be aware of the risks connected to the spread of their personal data. The more skilled they are in using these technologies, and the more savvy they are about how online advertising works, the better they can protect their privacy. People who are more media literate will also be more curious about and explore their cultural heritage and recent European cultural works.
The Commission’s “Digital Europe” report, released earlier this month shows that Europeans are becoming more skilful internet and computers users, with 60% “digitally literate”, an essential aspect of media literacy. 56% of all Europeans go online at least once a week (compared to 43% in 2005) and more people in disadvantaged groups are using the net (see annex).
More people with lower educational levels go online (from 53.5% in 2005 to 62.5% in 2008, where 100% is the overall population’s internet use). More unemployed people use the web (up from 74.4% in 2005 to 80.3 % in 2008), and women’s internet use is now almost the same as the EU’s overall population (growing from.88.4% in 2005 to 94.6% in 2008). The computer and internet skills of women, the unemployed and over-55s have grown by at least 3% compared to the overall population since 2006.
However, even though internet, especially broadband, connections are becoming more affordable, 24% of Europeans without internet at home said this is because they lack the necessary skills to use it.