Media Education in Europe – New Trends and Orientations, Eger, 19 may 2001

Written by Maria Manuela Novais Santos, Universidade Aberta (Open University), Portugal

Even though the great concern as to the influence of media on children and young people became more evident in the 80’s, the need for a pedagogical approach of media was felt much earlier in several countries in Europe, Canada and Australia.

Claude Julien, a journalist and former director of “Le Monde Diplomatique”, mentions Jean Macé’s efforts – as early as 1866 – to raise children’s awareness regarding the media. A teacher and journalist, he founded a newspaper for children, “Le Magasin d’Education et Récreation”, and organised meetings with the children in order to analyse the television of that epoch, the magic lantern – “to awaken them, to make them think, to open their eyes and not to tell them what to think”.[i]

Media Education development has been quite uneven, with a great diversity in goals, strategies, resources, contexts, and in educators’ profiles

Every time a new medium appears there is a great concern about the way it will influence people, particularly children and adolescents.

Therefore, the object of Media Education has focused on newspapers, magazines, films and, above all, TV. As the most popular medium, involving large audiences and thus having an enormous power and influence, TV has become the principal object of study and analysis along the last decades. But now, in the Information Society, in the « Third Media Age », as some call it, when children spend more time using the computer than in front of the TV set, the focus can no longer be limited to print and audiovisual media, but it must include the new digital media.

Major events on Media Education, some of them sponsored by UNESCO, reflect the evolution it has been undergoing during the last years.

In 1982, the German National Commission for UNESCO organised an international symposium in Grünwald entitled “Education of the Public in the Use of Mass Media: Problems, Trends and Prospects”. Its main focus was thus on the mass media. The Grünwald Declaration stated that, in those days, an increasing number of people spent a great deal of time watching TV, reading newspapers and magazines, playing  records and listening to the radio. Children already spent more time watching TV than they did attending school. Therefore, the need to encourage the growth of critical awareness as to the mass media messages was strongly felt, and the recommendations included in the Declaration reflect that concern.[ii]

In 1990, the International Colloquy on « New Directions in Media Education », held in Toulouse, France, reviwed the Media Education practices in different countries and analysed the factors leading to success, which was a basis for the recommendations as to the new orientations.

In 1999, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Austrian National Commission for UNESCO co-ordinated an international conference on “Educating for the Media and the Digital Age”. The new environment brought about by the emergence of the Information Society, with an increased output of new communication technology and the presence of digital media as sources of information, has given rise to new challenges for Media Education, which has thus to be re-defined. Media Education no longer focuses exclusively on the traditional media, but it “deals with all communication media and includes the printed word and graphics, the sound, the still as well as the moving image, delivered on any kind of technology”. It “enables people to gain understanding of the communication media used in their society and the way they operate, and to acquire skills in using these media to communicate with others”. The recommendations addressed to UNESCO following the Conference included the creation of an International Clearing House for Media Education “that should collaborate with functioning national and international networks and organisations dealing with Media Education.[…] It should share strategies, disseminate Media Education materials, promote and stress awareness of Media Education”.[iii] It should also be a permanent observatory for its development.

Following the recommendations issued in the Vienna Conference, the Executive Board and the General Conference of UNESCO approved to integrate activities of Media Education into its programmes of 2000 and 2001.

A study about the new definition of Media Education, its implications for Education in general and its state of the art worldwide was produced by ICEM – the International Council for Educational Media. That report, under the title “Media Education in the Digital Age – New Trends and Orientations”, was presented to UNESCO Information, Communication and Education Sectors in July 2000.

Last April, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, “aware of the specific problems related to the use of new technologies” and recognising the importance of Media Education, “considers that media education should be taken into account throughout the whole education process and concerns all sectors of education. The Education Committee is planning to implement […] an integrated European approach to media education, possibly in co-operation with the Media Sector of the Council of Europe, and to consider the feasibility of setting up an international office for media education”.[iv]

Given the fact that this subject deals both with education and with the media, the Committee of Ministers has requested collaboration not only from the Education

Committee but also from the Steering Committee on the Mass Media. Also the Media Sector has identified Media Education as “an issue of prime importance […] as it is now a pre-requisite for individual access to all kinds of knowledge, including education and training”. “The ability of individuals to access and distribute information via communication means […] is particularly important in the context of the new communication and information services”. According to the Committee of Ministers, it is the governments’ duty “to foster competence in the new information technologies and in particular ‘to enable individuals to make active, critical and discerning use of these technologies.’” This is crucial in the context of life-long learning.[v]

From this year on, a new project – “Teaching and Learning in the Communication Society” – will be implemented by the Education Committee and the Higher Education and Research Committee, which testifies the interest that these sectors are showing as to this matter. The project aims at examining and analysing existing practices in Media Education in the member-states of the Council for Cultural Co-operation, and also at implementing an integrated European approach to Media Education.

We can come to the conclusion that Media Education is now on the verge of a new era since it receives a strong support from organisations like UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

Traditionally being a grassroot movement, Media Education is now seen as an essential component of the education process, and the importance of its integration in school curricula as well as in tertiary, non-formal and life-long education is now undoubtedly recognised. As it requires specific teaching skills, teacher training, both initial and in-service, is strongly recommended, as well as supplementary training in co-operation with professionals in the field of media. A new teacher training programme at international level will soon be implemented with the support of the Council of Europe. Adequate teaching materials should also be available – networking would facilitate the sharing both of materials and of strategies and practices.

Although the definition of Media Education necessarily reflects the paradigm shift in Education in general, caused by the new technological environment, its goals are basically the same as they were two decades ago. In Vienna it was stated that “Media Education ensures that people learn how to

  • analyse, critically reflect upon and create media texts
  • identify the sources of media texts, their political, social, commercial and/or cultural interests, and their contexts
  • interpret the messages and values offered by the media
  • select appropriate media for communicating their own messages or stories and for reaching their intended audience
  • gain or demand access to media for both reception and production”.[vi]

These were, in fact, the aims of Media Educators when analysing a newspaper article, a film, a video or a TV programme, for example; or when having pupils write a piece of news or produce a video at school. Two decades ago Media Education activities, such as identifying the context of media texts, interpreting the media values, decoding their messages, or choosing one medium for communication, already aimed at developing critical analysis and media creativity.

Today, the main difference – and indeed a major one – has to do with the media landscape, which is now much more difficult to control than it was before. The technological environment has very significant repercussions on society. The combined effect of technological advances and the globalisation of communication poses new questions to Media Education. Offering uncountable possibilities in terms of education, culture and science, the new technologies also hide dangers.

In January 1999, under the patronage of the Director-General of UNESCO, specialists in child protection, Internet specialists and service providers, media educators and producers, met in Paris to discuss “sexual abuse of children, child pornography and paedophilia on the Internet. One of the conclusions was the need for the development of media and Internet education, information and awareness strategies to sensitise children, parents, teachers, educational institutions, social workers, the media and decision makers”.[vii]

Last February, an expert seminar entitled “Children and Young People in the New Media Landscape”, organised by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in co-operation with the European Commission, discussed “the protection of minors from harmful content on the Internet, in computer and video games and on television, and also television advertising directed at children”. There was a general consensus that “children, regardless of age, need protection from harmful content on the Internet and in a digital and global television environment”. Violence and paedophilia in particular are a great source of concern to parents and educators. All the workshops concluded that awareness raising actions and Media Education will have to be considered together with conventional methods for protection, like watersheds. Technical devices, rating and filtering techniques, self-regulation, codes of conduct, etc., cannot be the only means. Besides, they appear to be increasingly ineffective. And the fact is that adults are less and less able to control children’s access to electronic media. So, the importance of Media Education as part of the school system was stressed. School, however, is not enough – “parents, broadcasters and producers of children’s programmes should be part of educational efforts”. The need of “empowering” audiences, specially children and adolescents, through Media Education was emphasised.[viii]

On the one hand, children and young people should be taught and encouraged to use traditional media as well as the new information and communication technologies in all their potentialities, as they are indispensible for their education, life-long training and everyday social life. On the other hand, they have to be protected from their harmful content. Media Educators will always have to bear this duality in mind. They will also have to take into consideration the media competence of children, as they are often more competent than adults in dealing with technologies. Besides, they have their own way of decoding the messages conveyed by the media. Here lies another paradox – children and young people show a considerable expertise with media, yet they need protection regarding their content.

We can conclude that the Media Educators’ mission is not an easy one. Furthermore, they have a tremendous responsibility, because Media Education, as stated in Vienna, “is instrumental in building democracy” and it has “a critical role to play in, and should be responsive to, situations of social and political conflicts, war, natural disaster, ecological catastrophe, etc.”.[ix]

Media Education helps understand the concept of democratic citizenship in terms of freedom of expression and the right to information. This is a very important factor both in developing countries and in our multicultural and multiethnical societies. In developing countries, the potential of media to represent their cultures, traditions and way of life should be fully used. In developed countries, cultural and ethnical minorities, as well as socially and economically disadvantaged citizens and people with special needs should have access to all media and also to information and communication technologies – reception and production – according to the democratic dimension of communication.

Everything should be attempted to avoid social exclusion and the increasing divide between rich and poor regions within the developed world and between this and the developing countries. The commercial media outburst following the globalisation and the privatisation of the media is a global subject and no matter where media users live – in poor or rich countries – they tend to adopt the consumer life style, conveyed by those media. For their own sake, they should be aware of the implications of this issue. Media Education can play, also here, a fundamental role. But, to accomplish it and to face all new challenges, Media Educators have to be informed and adequately trained.

This is why an international sustained teacher training programme and an integrated international approach to Media Education would be most welcome by teachers in spite of the fear of education globalisation. Exportation of ready-made teaching programmes to distant contexts has proven negative, but a wise, sensible adaptation of contents, strategies and pratices to each local context would make it possible to overcome that issue. An international approach would foster the exchange of experience with countries having a long and solid tradition in the field, and with professionals who are developing innovating projects. Research results and issues like training and forms of assessment – a great concern for Media Educators – could be discussed and shared.

As we can read in the study presented to UNESCO by the International Council for Educational Media (ICEM), “Few people, professionally involved in Media Education, have the opportunity to see one another across national borders, to share their experiences and build up professional relationships. Simultaneously, the media and the global society, both central aspects to the contemporary world, are not contained within borders.  […] At all levels, around the globe, teachers of Media

Education deal with the media, communication technology education and the implications of multicultural societies. […] Yet, many media educators have limited possibilities of exchanging information in practice. […] In sharing experience on what has already been achieved in the area of Media Education, the possibilities that the Internet offers for purposes of communication, as an information source and as a method of teaching, are indispensable. […] Communication between projects is an area that has to be effectively developed through means of newsletters,  Internet and regularly organised events for professionals.” And a conclusion is drawn: the urgent need for a central international platform for Media Education.[x]


[i] JULIEN, Claude, Quelle information pour quelle démocratie?, in FRÉMONT, Pierre et al. (coord.), L’École et les Médias – pour une éducation à la citoyenneté, CLEMI, Médiapouvoirs,1995, p. 22

[ii] UNESCO Declaration on Media Education issued at UNESCO’s 1982 International Symposium on Media Education, at Grünwald, Germany

[iii] Recommendations addressed to UNESCO, adopted by the Vienna Conference Educating for the Media and the Digital Age, 18-20 April 1999, in http://www.nordicom.gu.se/unesco.html

[iv] Doc. 9026: Reply from the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1466 (2000) on Media Education, 10 April 2001

[v] Opinion of the CDMM on Recommendation 1466 (2000) of the Parliamentary Assembly – Appendix II to Doc. 9026

[vi] Recommendations addressed to UNESCO, adopted by the Vienna Conference Educating for the Media and the Digital Age, 18-20 April 1999, in http://www.nordicom.gu.se/unesco.html

[vii] UNESO Information Document Media Education – Renewing UNESCO’s Commitment, April 1999

[viii] Presidency Report and Conclusions from the expert meeting Children and young people in the new media landscape, Stockholm, 12-13 February 2001, in http://www.eu/2001

[ix] Recommendations addressed to UNESCO, adopted by the Vienna Conference Educating for the Media and the Digital Age, 18-20 April 1999, in http://www.nordicom.gu.se/unesco.html

[x] International Council for Educational Media (ICEM), Media Education and the Digital Age – New Trends and Orientations, July 2000, pp.80-81

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