Costello speech on EU attitude to developing media literacy

29 March 2014

Speech to CRAOL Media Literacy Conference, Saturday 29th March 2014


Just a few decades ago we consumed media almost the same way as we consumed our food. A blast of radio at breakfast time, maybe a newspaper for elevenses, news headlines at lunch and a few hours of television for the evening.

That has all so radically changed. Media is all around us. We consume it constantly. It’s on our phone; our screens; our cameras; even our glasses (for those of you who’ve invested in Google’s latest offering!)

But it’s not just the availability the diversity of media channels that has changed. The content makers have changed. Every citizen has the power to inform, or distort through a simple tweet or a post on facebook.

This week, many of you may have seen the viral photo of our President – Michael D Higgins – lining up at an ATM to make a cash withdrawal. Just one person with a smartphone captured the moment. The result was more shares and interactions than any other Irish news story received this week. And, let’s face it, the week was news rich.

And so, with so much information churning around from all kinds of sources, it’s not always easy to sort the wood from the trees.

Just as literacy was at the beginning of the twentieth century, media literacy – in my view - is a key pre-requisite of the twenty-first century.

Media literacy allows us to:

- Access the media;

- Understand the media and have a critical approach towards media content;

- And create communication in a variety of contexts.


Narrow scope of EU competence in education

The first point I would like to make as part of my contribution today is that the EU’s role in education issues in general is limited to “encouraging cooperation” between Member States and, “if necessary, to supporting and supplementing their action”. Any EU action in this field must fully respect “the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity” (Art.165(1).

That said, the EU has played an important role in promoting media literacy over the decade or so, and one that I believe should be developed further.


EU and Media Literacy since 2006

In 2006, the European Commission began a formal reflection on media literacy within the framework of European audio-visual policy and the then EU economic strategy – the Lisbon Strategy.

In December 2007, it issued a Communication – ‘A European approach to media literacy in the digital environment’. This urged Member States to promote media literacy for commercial communication covering advertising and the media in general.

In May 2008, EU Culture Ministers adopted conclusions stating that media literacy was a key factor for active citizenship in today’s information society.

In October 2008, the European Parliament adopted a (non-binding) resolution urging the European Commission to come forward with a Media Literacy Recommendation, addressed to the Member States.

In August 2009, the Commission complied with this request and presented a Recommendation addressed to the Member States – ‘on media literacy in the digital environment for a more competitive audiovisual and content industry and an inclusive knowledge society’, which set out a series of actions that could be taken by Member States to promote media literacy.

This was followed in November 2009, by the adoption of Council Conclusions on media literacy in the digital literacy. These ‘reaffirmed’ the Council’s commitment to media literacy and ‘welcomed’ the Commission’s Recommendation.



Audiovisual Media Services Directive and media literacy

Media literacy is also one of the key objectives of the 2007 Audiovisual Media Services directive, which replaced the TV without Frontiers directive, particularly given the challenges posed by Connected TV. The line between linear and non-linear services is being blurred, and this makes it difficult for consumers to distinguish between different forms of media and the sources of their content. The introduction of media literacy training programmes to education systems is within the competence of the Member States.

Under Article 33 of the directive, the Commission must, if necessary, present proposals to adapt the directive to developments in the field of audiovisual media services, taking into account technological developments and levels of media literacy in the Member States.

However, the Commission has not come forward with any proposals under Article 33.

The European Parliament’s May 2013 resolution on implementation on the AVMS directive stated that further efforts were needed in the field of improving media literacy among citizens, and called on the Commission and the Member States to promote media literacy for all EU citizens, and encouraged the Member States in particular to integrate media literacy and e-skills in relation to digital media, into their respective school curricula.

Last August, the Commission stated that it planned to promote a debate on the role of media literacy in education through a new ‘Expert Group’ composed of representatives of Member States’ education ministers, and that it would evaluate the feasibility of a plan for assessing media literacy across Europe, in cooperation with national authorities.

I have now tabled questions to the Commission as to the current situation with plans.


EU funding for media literacy

Over the past seven years, a number of media literacy projects have received EU financial support under the Media 2007 and Media Mundus programmes, and other EU initiatives, with the objective of

- analysing media representations and media values in a multimedia perspective;

- encouraging the production and distribution of media literacy related content;

- stimulating the use of media in order to improve participation in social and community life;

- intensifying networking around media education related issues;

- concentrating on the implementation of media literacy initiatives bridging the media industry and the education world, in a “hands-on” approach.


Creative Europe (2014-20)

EU funding will continue to be available through the successor ‘Creative Europe’ programme agreed by the European Parliament and Member States’ Governments late last year.

The programme has a total budget of €1.5 billion and will run to 2020.

It is made up of three main sections: a MEDIA sub-programme; a Culture sub-programme; a Cross-Sectoral strand.

Art.15 of the Creative Europe Regulation provides that in order to promote ‘transnational policy cooperation’, the Cross-Sectoral strand shall support, among other things “conferences, seminars and policy dialogue, including in the field of cultural and media literacy, promoting digital networking where appropriate”.

The European Commission has already started issuing calls for proposals under the Media and Culture sub-programmes, but has not yet issued any calls under the Cross-Sectoral strand. I have now tabled questions to the European Commission asking when calls for proposals in relation to media literacy are expected, and I will pass on the Commission’s answer as soon as I receive it.


Rights, Equality and Citizenship (2014-20)

Funding in relation to media literacy may also be available under the new EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme, also agreed by the European Parliament and Member States’ governments last year.

This programme has a total budget of €440 million and will also run to 2020.

Civil society organisations interested in media literacy were able in the past to find support under the previous EU ‘Citizenship’ programme - in the form of ‘structural support for civil society organisations’. Similar support should be made available under the new programme.


Recommendation on ‘key competences for lifelong learning’

In 2006, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a recommendation addressed to the Member States on ‘key competences for lifelong learning’.

The objective of this recommendation was to provide a common European reference framework on key competences to ensure that education and training systems "offer all young people the means to develop key competences to a level that equips them for further learning and adult life" and provide coherent and comprehensive lifelong learning for adults making them "able to develop and update their key competences".

The recommendation identified eight key competences - communication in the mother tongue, communication in foreign languages, mathematical competence and basic competence in science and technology, digital competence, learning to learn, social and civic competences, initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and expression.

The section on digital competence does state that the use of Information Society Technology requires a critical and reflective attitude towards available information and a responsible use of the interactive media, it does not make any specific remmmendations in relation to media literacy.

I believe it is time to review and update this recommendation, including by making media literacy one of the key competences. I have raised this matter with the Commission and will report back on the response I receive.


General Issues regarding media literacy

At a domestic level, the 2009 Broadcasting Act sets a very clear definition of media literacy. While that Act is now under the spotlight for areas of reform and adjustment, I believe the emphasis on media literacy should be maintained.

At the outset of my contribution, I alluded to the multiple media platforms that exist and the range of sources that create media. In this new world, I believe that the broadcast media has a very important role. It must be a trusted and accessible media so that media consumers can get the best in news, entertainment and content. Media literacy is central to this.

The Broadcasting Act – in its definition – recognises the special place of communities in creating media.

Community radio, to this end, has an important community service and community engagement function. It has a role in producing content; and can have significant capacity to influence the community. In a media-saturated world, it’s important that community broadcasting prevails.

By virtue of hosting this event today, I know that you understand the value and importance of media literacy, and your role in being agents in promoting media literacy.

Under the umbrella of CRAOL, I think significant efforts have been made to educate community broadcasters on media literacy and how it can be realised.

I congratulate you all for being leaders and champions of media literacy, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to participate in your event.





Digital Revolutionaries