The first European Media Literacy Week, an initiative of the European Union, will take place March 18-22 in various European cities. The week is a new initiative by the European Commission, putatively “to underline the societal importance of media literacy and promote media literacy initiatives and projects across the EU”. The European Commission explains its policy of strengthening ‘media literacy’ within the EU — which could have been a noble and useful initiative — the following way:
“With the rapid rise of digital technology and its increasing use in business, education and culture, it is important to ensure everyone can understand and engage with digital media.
“Media literacy is vital for economic growth and job creation. Digital technologies are a key driver of competitiveness and innovation in the media, information, and communication technology sectors.”
As part of its “Digital Single Market” strategy, the European Commission adds flimsily:
“Media literacy concerns different media (broadcasting, radio, press), different distribution channels (traditional, internet, social media) and addresses the needs of all ages… A high level of media literacy is a key factor to enable citizens to make informed decisions in the digital age. Media literacy is a pre-requisite for a vibrant, modern democracy.”
One does not have to scratch the surface much, however, before it appears that at least certain aspects of the European Commission’s Media Literacy policy are less about enlightening citizens, than about heavy-handedly guiding them on what to think. According to the European Commission, “a key stone in all possible definitions of media literacy is the development of critical thinking by the user.” The Commission, it would appear, has arrogated to itself the formidable task of “developing” that crucial faculty in EU citizens.
Furthermore, according to the Commission:
“Media literacy is also a tool empowering citizens as well as raising their awareness and helping counter the effects of disinformation campaigns and fake news spreading through digital media.”
The EU initiative against disinformation, according to which, “The exposure of citizens to large scale disinformation, including misleading or outright false information, is a major challenge for Europe,” contains “an action plan to step up efforts to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond…” The action plan is analyzed in more detail here.
The above initiatives, of course, exist in addition to all the other measures that the EU has put in place to “guide” Europeans onto the path of proper thinking. These measures include the Code of Practice on Disinformation, which the untransparent and unaccountable online tech giants — Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla — signed in October 2018, and their 2019 “Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech online.”
Europeans evidently now need the further indispensable guidance of the European Commission to learn how properly to navigate, read and interpret the news, whether the source is traditional or digital. How and why it became the business of the EU bureaucracy to teach Europeans what to read and think remains somewhat obscure.
Even so, for some European leaders, this artillery battery of bureaucratic measures to guide the thinking of Europeans is still not sufficient. French President Emmanuel Macron recently gave a speech in which he proposed establishing the Orwellian sounding “European Agency for the Protection of Democracies”:
“We should have European rules banish all incitements to hate and violence from the Internet, since respect for the individual is the bedrock of our civilisation of dignity.” [Emphasis in the original]
As always, who defines what is perceived as “hate” was left blowing in the wind. Presumably, whatever EU leaders perceive to contradict their own preferred policies, as previous experience has shown — for instance here, here, and here. In Macron’s France, for example, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Rassemblement National (National Rally) party, formerly known as Front National, has been charged with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity,” for tweeting images of atrocities committed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq in 2015, and that can be viewed by a minor. One of the images showed the body of James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS terrorists, while the others showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being driven over by a tank and another of a man being burned alive in a cage. “Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in the caption, which she tweeted a few weeks after the ISIS attack on Paris in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed.
“I am being charged for having condemned the horrors of Daesh,” Le Pen said. In the same vein as China’s “reeducation camps” or the former Soviet Union’s “rehabilitation centers” that abused psychiatry for political purposes, Le Pen in September was ordered to undergo psychiatric tests for tweeting the pictures, ostensibly in order to establish whether she “is capable of understanding remarks and answering questions.”
Warning against Islamic terrorism, according to the French judicial system, is not only criminal but apparently represents a psychological aberration. Le Pen could face up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($85,000). Also in September, parliament lifted the immunity of another Rassemblement National MP, Gilbert Collard, over similar tweets that contained ISIS images. Criminal prosecution is, of course, one way for governments to deal with political opponents, but it used to be limited to dictatorships, not parliamentary democracies, such as France.
One wonders if this form of European censorship is what Macron, with his Orwellian plan, would like to see exported to the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile, the upcoming media literacy week will launch with an opening conference hosted by the European Commission on March 19. So far, there are around 180 announced media literacy events throughout Europe for the month of March. In Slovenia, workshops such as “Media Literacy Workshop for Students: Fighting Fake News” and “Real Media Literacy for a Fake News World” are offered, and in London, Europeans are invited to a seminar on, “Fake News vs Media Literacy: Critical Thinking, Resilience, Civic Engagement,” where:
“Leading media literacy researchers from the US and UK will come together… with teachers, librarians, journalists, digital media producers and young people to tackle disinformation with media literacy… working to a collective aim – a practical strategy for harnessing media literacy to develop young people’s resilience to ‘fake news’, with a focus on case studies from both the UK and the US.”
It is probably safe to say that the first victims of the EU’s media literacy policies will be diversity of opinion and free speech.