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Information, media – skills of use are still to be developed

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The days when the public sources of information consisted of a few newspapers, magazines and a small number of television channels and radio stations are gone. However, in this age of information abundance, when most of the information is provided electronically, information is used also as a powerful weapon of propaganda to spread disinformation (fake news) and shape public opinion favourable to certain groups of people and their interests (both private and political).

Under such conditions, it is impossible to react without objective criticism to things and maximum filtration of information, but it should be acknowledged that the absolute majority of society lack both skills and the willingness in this regard, as maybe evidenced by frequent usage of non-critical sharing of various disinformation materials on social media. In this case, Latvia is one of the brightest examples, fighting consequences of unsuccessful policy for minority integration, problems related to a split society and divided informative space, as emphasized also by the information given below.

According to the survey of media literacy, the habits and usage of the media content of the residents of Latvia and the security of informative space, conducted by the National Electronic Mass Media Council, social media and the Internet news portals are used on a daily basis by approximately 60% of the respondents, whereas, television is watched by less than a half of the interviewees. Furthermore, both social media and the Internet news portals are the only sources of information the audience of which has experienced a steady growth across the period of four years, exceeding the 80% mark. In the age group from 16 to 30 years old, these indicators are even more impressive – 91% of the respondents read the content of Internet news portals, but 97% of the respondents use social media, while printed and online press items are read by less than 20% of the interviewees.[29]

It was also revealed that, in the age group from 16 to 30 years, the media and information in Latvian are used by 92% of the audience (85% of the total number of respondents), information in Russian in this age group is obtained by 38% (59%), but in English – by 66% (35%). A completely different scene occurs when it comes to the results obtained in the entire group of minority respondents – here, the media in Russian dominates for information sources (94%); a third less of the respondents obtain their information also from sources in the official language (60%), whereas, resources in English are used by a mere 25% of the interviewed representatives of minorities.

These details reveal rather unequivocally that, on a national scale, there is a wide and comparatively easy reachable audience to be addressed and the sites deliver their messages – with good intentions or otherwise – by applying various creative methods. This is the explanation of a divided informative area, with residents loyal to the state and using the content of the “mainstream” media, on one side, and with a comparatively smaller, mainly Russian-speaking part of the audience, which, due to the lack of knowledge of the official state language and/or other reasons, consumes the information delivered through various channels by countries which are openly ill-inclined and even hostile to Latvia, among them – Russia, on the opposite side.

To a certain extent, spreading of disinformation in Latvia is not even subject to punishment, and there is only one weapon to fight false information – true information delivered to the addressees concerned. Continuous failure to do “homework” has led to the current situation, where this task for Latvia is close to “mission impossible”, but it does not mean that the events should be or have been fully left to run their course.

Estonia has been indicated as a contrast, with the ability to attract a large part of the minority audience skilfully and in a timely manner to the media working in the official language, for example, by integrating in their television programmes professionally produced Russian entertainment shows and skilfully weeding out the possible propaganda elements.

Likewise, being internationally known as the Baltic leader in the implementation of e-governance, Estonia has comparatively successfully implemented the introduction of “communication competence” and “digital competence” sections in the school curricula, mentioning such skills as general competences to be developed among students. The programme includes also eight cross-curricular topics, among which the information environment is the most relevant to media literacy. [39]

One of the more comprehensive indicators available in the public domain regarding society’s skills to perceive information available from various sources correctly and critically, weeding out disinformation and fake news, is the Media Literacy Index compiled by the Open Society Institute – Sofia the results of which are divided into five blocks.

It should be noted that the indicators fit the results of the contributed work. According to the index of 2022, Estonia taking the 4th position with 72 points, convincingly falls within block 1 together with Finland, Norway, Denmark and other highly developed countries. Lithuania and Latvia, receiving 58 and 54 points, respectively, are at the lower part of block 2, namely, in the 17th–21st position, whereas, Poland with 56 points is right in the middle between them, namely, in the 19th position. Moldova with 32 points is ranked at the lower level of block 4.[30]

[29] https://petijumi.mk.gov.lv/node/4005

[30] https://osis.bg/?p=4243&lang=en

[39] https://media-and-learning.eu/type/featured-articles/media-literacy-in-the-baltics-similar-backgrounds-but-different-approaches/

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