New study supports the development of media literacy policies

Earlier this year (as discussed in the July edition of this newsletter), the Council of the European Union adopted the conclusions on media literacy in an ever-changing world. In these conclusions, the Council invites member states to support the consistent development of media literacy policies and their implementation. However, the following questions arise: what administrative sectors are the issues related to media literacy mostly involved in, and how can the concept be understood within policy frameworks?

In international comparisons, Finland has often emerged as a frontrunner in promoting media literacy, especially from the perspective of national-level policies and structures. During the revision of the national media literacy policy in Finland, we conducted a study on the policy documents published by different Finnish ministries. The findings not only help shed light on the multifaceted opportunities for media literacy policy development but also underline the importance of contextuality.

From communication to education: Media literacy is a cross-sectoral concept

Media literacy can have a dualistic nature within policies. On the one hand, there can be specific media literacy policies; on the other hand, media literacy can be integrated into broader policies.

The first result in our study made visible that media literacy is a concept that is familiar across administrative sectors. Policy documents discussing media literacy and media education were published most often by the Ministry of Education. Altogether, the topics of media literacy and media education were included in 10 different ministries’ policies, such as those on communications, justice, social affairs and health.

Versatile administrative backgrounds of the ministries involved in the media literacy policy development, illustrate the potential opportunities to further the promotion of media literacy within policy frameworks. Thus, finding the links between media literacy and the relevant administrative sectors is important.

Versatility opens up possibilities for media literacy development

According to the study, media literacy and media education are presented in different ways in policies. We identified the following eight frames on how media literacy can be understood:

  • protectionism
  • cultural participation
  • future work competencies
  • inclusion
  • broad media education
  • democracy
  • national security
  • cosmopolitanism

The emphasis of these different frames has changed and evolved over time. Although media literacy is framed most commonly from a protectionist perspective, this perspective was most evident between 2005 and 2010. After that, within the Finnish ministerial level policy documents media literacy was more commonly framed, for example, from democratic and inclusion perspectives. The latest notable trend is related to the frame of national security, most evident from 2016 onward.

These different frames can support the further development of the media literacy policy framework by providing links to issues related to different administrative sectors.

Towards comprehensive and consistent media literacy policies

As the role of media grows in society, culture and people’s everyday lives, new opportunities and connections open up for media literacy professionals. The different frames of media education identified in this study encourage strengthening the media literacy approach in, for example, democracy education, art education and global education.

Media literacy work – including that in the policy setting – always takes place in a certain societal and cultural context. Thus, to make it as relevant as possible, the development should be based on a local approach.

The findings of this study emphasise the importance of a nuanced understanding of media literacy. As media literacy can be understood from a variety of perspectives, the question should not be whether media education is important but rather the kind of media education that is important and why.

These perspectives create inspiring possibilities and directions for future media literacy.

You can download the full research article “Palsa & Salomaa (2020) Media literacy as a cross-sectoral phenomenon: Media education in Finnish ministerial-level policies” from this link.

About the author: Lauri Palsa (M.A.) is a Senior advisor in the National Audiovisual Institute, KAVI, in Finland. Currently Palsa is working as the team leader for the media education team in the KAVI´s Department for Media Education and Audiovisual Media. He has several years´ experience in researching, developing and promoting national media education in Finland. He is the co-author of the “Media literacy in Finland. National media education policy.”


Lauri Palsa, Senior Adviser, National audiovisual institute KAVI, Finland