Digital Media Literacy in EDMO Round Table: MedDMO

This interview is part of the ”Digital Media Literacy in EDMO Round Table’‘ interview series that is published every month to highlight the work of the 14 EDMO hubs.

MedDMO – The Mediterranean Digital Media Observatory.

Dimitrios Giomelakis, Special Research Scientist, Journalism Program, Department of Social & Political Sciences, University of Cyprus

Costas Constandinides, Lecturer, Journalism Program, Department of Social & Political Sciences, University of Cyprus

Megan Mallia, Department of Media and Communications, University of Malta

Anastasia Katsaounidou, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Who are the leading players in these countries (Cyprus, Greece and Malta) when it comes to promoting media literacy?

Different organisations are working on media literacy in Cyprus as a joint effort to raise awareness and increase the media literacy levels across the island. The Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (CPI) and the Cyprus Radio and Television Authority (CRTA) can be considered as the key players working to promote media literacy in the country. Through partnerships with universities and research centres, the CRTA and the CPI have played a significant role in supporting and implementing initiatives focused on learning methods and training for teachers. As the independent regulatory body overseeing audiovisual media services in Cyprus, the CRTA has a formal responsibility to promote media literacy. The Authority arranges events involving various stakeholders crucial for the successful implementation of media literacy policies. Additionally, it conducts practical workshops on media literacy (often in collaboration with the CPI) and runs awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the regulatory framework for audiovisual media services and the importance of critically evaluating media content.

It should be noted that media education is not currently part of the official curriculum for primary and secondary education in Cyprus. Instead, it relies on initiatives from state-funded organisations/events such as film festivals, as well as individual entities within schools, often on a project or a voluntary basis or as extra-curricular activities. However, there’s a lack of systemic educational programmes and policy directives in this regard. Nonetheless, efforts are made within the public education system to train teachers and provide special education to students across all levels. The Pedagogical Institute of Cyprus plays a coordinating role in these activities, collaborating closely with the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth. Finally, in academia, various universities and research institutions have also been involved in relevant efforts to promote media literacy through research projects and educational activities focused on misinformation and media literacy.

In Greece, cognitive and technical media literacy skills are taught at various compulsory education levels. Thus, one of the actors that produce knowledge about Media Literacy is the school. Interestingly, it is up to the teachers to decide whether they will discuss specific issues, such as finding and evaluating information for safe and responsible web browsing. Moreover, there are also non-state bodies that produce excellent work, such as The Greek Internet Safety Centre started its operation in July 2016 under the auspices of the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (ITE) and, specifically, the Institute of Computer Science. Moreover, non-governmental actors active in the fight against disinformation, such as AFP Greece, Ellinika Hoaxes, and Fact Review, occasionally produce media literacy material.

As for Malta, media literacy is mostly – if not completely – promoted by non-state actors, namely non-governmental and non-profit organisations and some media outlets. The government set up a ‘Media Literacy Development Board’ in early 2021, but there has been little to no output from it. It is also worth noting that media literacy is not a compulsory subject at any level of the educational curriculum.

Do you have any idea as to how media-literate people are generally in this region? Are there any types of measures that can be used to assess this over time?

In the recent OSIS Media Literacy Index (Open Society Institute – Sofia, 2023), all three countries of MedDMO – Cyprus, Greece, and Malta – fall within the third cluster of countries that are at risk of further decline. This indicates common challenges among these countries, which share similar socio-political experiences and constitute some of the smallest countries within the EU. 

According to the latest Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) reports for our countries, the risk level for media literacy in Cyprus has improved from 67% to 60%, remaining in the medium range. This improvement is mainly due to the increase in the number of individuals who have acquired basic or above basic digital skills. In Greece, the indicator for media literacy has risen from a medium-risk score of 46% in 2021 to a high risk of 67% in 2022. Meanwhile, in Malta, the media literacy indicator scores a high risk at 80%, which is 3 percentage points higher than the previous edition of the MPM report. Several studies provide indications of how things are looking in certain aspects of media literacy; however, more research is needed to establish an overall measurement of the level of media literacy among the populations in this region.

What are the main challenges you face in promoting media literacy in these three countries?

Media literacy in Cyprus falls behind that of many EU member states primarily because there is no active media literacy policy in place, despite efforts initiated in 2011 to design and implement a policy plan. Regarding disinformation, although officials occasionally make statements, there hasn’t been significant progress in promoting a policy framework. While some NGOs are involved in raising awareness, media outlets show little commitment to thorough fact-checking.

In Greece, media literacy is often overlooked and may be considered a policy that is underdeveloped or not sufficiently implemented, lacking widespread recognition as a crucial skill. Although there is a general understanding of the importance of media literacy, it’s clear that more efforts are needed to promote it and ensure its incorporation into the (formal) education system. Furthermore, Greece’s efforts to address disinformation are still in the early stages, and more actions are necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by disinformation and fake news in the country.

Finally, Malta’s polarised politics particularly pose a challenge when it comes to media literacy. The country’s two main political parties own radio stations, television stations and newspapers, and the state broadcaster favours the governing party. In a country where politics tends to be treated like a football match, a large proportion of the population takes what ‘their team’ has to say as Gospel truth, even if it is false. Furthermore, as noted earlier, despite the Maltese government establishing a ‘Media Literacy Development Board’ in January 2021, no relevant proposals or working documents have been presented. Consequently, the country lacks a comprehensive media literacy policy. In addition, there is currently no formal or dedicated approach to tackle disinformation, with fact-checking initiatives primarily depending on journalists and independent media.

As already mentioned, in the latest (2023) OSIS Media Literacy Index produced by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, all three countries belong to the group of countries at risk of further decline. All of the above indicates that the three countries share common challenges in this area. In the rapidly evolving media landscape, with new technologies and platforms constantly emerging, there is a clear need for increased media literacy activities, keeping media literacy programs up-to-date, and initiatives to combat disinformation in this region.

What value do you think EDMO and the network of EDMO hubs in particular bring to the challenge of fighting disinformation and promoting media literacy in Malta, Cyprus and Greece?

The existence of an organisation at the European level to promote media literacy and, in parallel, to monitor, evaluate, and combat disinformation is of great importance. The network of EDMO hubs fosters and facilitates information sharing and collaboration within the EU community on these issues, something that would be almost non-existent without this initiative. The different working groups allow us to share experiences and know-how across different European countries, working together to discuss common strategies and successful practices to tackle common challenges. Moreover, through campaigns and initiatives, EDMO and its hub network contributes to raising awareness about the importance of media literacy and the dangers of online misinformation and disinformation.

Finally, the EDMO initiative and the MedDMO project laid the foundation for two different fact-checking units: one in Malta (a unit within the Times of Malta) and one in Cyprus (a new fact-checking organisation, Fact-Check Cyprus), producing fact-checks regularly and systematically, something that didn’t exist before MedDMO.

What types of media literacy activities have been organised by MedDMO since it was set up?

MedDMO’s plan on media literacy involves the following activities: 1) Preparation of training material, 2) Organisation of media literacy campaigns, 3) Training of Fact-checkers.

Since its inception, the following media literacy activities have been carried out:

1) After initial research and discussions with partners, a first set of educational materials has been completed. This includes a number of short and easy-to-understand video tutorials in Greek and English produced by AFP (six in total), aimed at empowering the general public with basic fact-checking techniques. It also comprises explanatory and training exercises for relevant tools and technologies, such as the use of metadata in content verification, advanced web search, reverse image and video search, and geolocation. Additionally, the Deepfake Knowledge Base, an educational guide about deepfakes, was developed. All the aforementioned content is publicly available on MedDMO’s website. Finally, several presentations have also been created, including media literacy content that was demonstrated in media literacy events.

2) In line with another task of our project, a general online survey is in progress to identify gaps and specific media literacy needs, as well as the impact of disinformation in the three countries. These findings will contribute to the overall preparation of training and educational materials which will be completed during the second year of the project.

3) Several media literacy activities have been conducted so far by MedDMO partners, focusing on different audiences (e.g. students, library staff members, journalists). For example, during our first media literacy campaign in Greece conducted by the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH), seven presentations were conducted in different schools (mostly through webinars but also in person), with a total of 168 high school students aged 12 to 17 participating. The goal of this campaign was to raise awareness and inform the audience about the impact of disinformation, its various types/definitions, the policies and efforts aimed at countering it, and how to detect and build resilience against it. Other media literacy activities in schools have also been conducted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) in the last few months, focusing on elementary and high school students.

In Cyprus, an educational seminar entitled “Disinformation and content verification practices” was held at the University of Cyprus (UCY) library facilities last September, aimed at all library staff members of the educational institution, while an educational presentation on content verification tools for journalism students was held in the fall semester at the same institution following a discussion on how to utilise different technological tools that assist in the verification process. An educational presentation for teachers (around 60 teachers) was also conducted by our partners from the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) and Fact-Check Cyprus; it delved into misinformation risks and precautions for high school educators, in doing so presenting MedDMO and its objectives.

Finally, in late October 2023, AFP organised – with the help of Times of Malta and the University of Malta – a two-day workshop in Malta on countering disinformation. Twelve people joined the workshop, the majority of them journalists from Malta. There were also a few academics and a digital investigation journalist from Greece. The first day dealt with how to spot disinformation,  an introduction to fact-checking, search operators on social media, archiving and metadata. The second day dealt with reverse image search, reverse video search, geolocation and the challenges posed by AI. The workshop was a big success and all participants gave it a ‘thumbs up’. Further sessions and follow-up activities with the fact-checkers will be conducted in  April 2024 by AFP.

What plans do you have in relation to media literacy for the next 12 months for MedDMO?

Our main plans in MedDMO regarding media literacy are as follows:

1. Additional training/educational materials will be created, including a lesson plan and worksheets for trainers and trainees, interactive material in the form of online quizzes, further  educational presentations for different audiences, and more video content. All of this  will be based on experience, expertise and best practices to design training materials and educational tools for different groups of audiences.

2. More educational activities and media literacy campaigns will be conducted during the second and third year of the project to address the needs of our target groups (journalism students, journalists, the general public). As MedDMO, we are in discussions with all the relevant stakeholders, including local journalist unions and media professionals, to arrange training sessions and workshops. Also, in Cyprus, a media literacy activity centred on the EU elections is underway, focusing on journalism students.

3. Regarding our research activities, in the next few months, we plan to conclude our survey on media literacy needs and the impact of disinformation in the three countries. We will then progress to the next stage with interviews targeting our audience.

Dimitrios Giomelakis, Special Research Scientist, Journalism Program, Department of Social & Political Sciences, University of Cyprus

Costas Constandinides, Lecturer, Journalism Program, Department of Social & Political Sciences, University of Cyprus

Megan Mallia, Department of Media and Communications, University of Malta

Anastasia Katsaounidou, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece