In her opening address at an event on media literacy, OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM), Teresa Ribeiro, underscored the vital role of state authorities in promoting media freedom literacy to enable individuals to create, access, understand, and critically analyse content.
Should we however need a contrasting example, then we need to look no further than Malta’s state authorities, which seem content with doing little more than box-ticking exercises to improve the country’s media literacy skills – a “window-dressing” method the government has perfected.
Ribeiro was opening OSCE’s Roundtable event dedicated to media literacy, which was held on Tuesday. The event explored the fundamental connection between media freedom and media literacy. It was an opportunity for key international media literacy actors to identify the existing gaps and showcase successful fact-checking and policy-making initiatives.
Speakers and participants shared ideas on the collective efforts required by several stakeholder groups in the OSCE region, including governments, civil society, academia, and media, to create an enabling environment for everyone to freely access a plurality of information.
Discussions also addressed the role of public service media in advancing media literacy by delivering quality content to various segments of society.
During our Media Freedom Literacy Roundtable, I said that in today’s increasingly saturated and invasive information ecosystem, there is a growing need for the people to understand and deal with media, information and news in a digital world. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/SCgwithO03
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) December 6, 2022
Malta lagging behind
According to the latest Media Pluralism Monitor report released earlier this year, the Media Literacy indicator for Malta was classified as high risk at 77%, marginally higher than the previous edition of the MPM (75%).
The country report underscores that well over a year has passed since the Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister appointed a Media Literacy Development Board. However, Malta still has no official policy on media literacy.
The Media Literacy Development Board was set up following an amendment to the Broadcasting Act (Article 16MA).
The Board is supposed to work in consultation with the Broadcasting Authority and other government entities, yet to be specified, to draft a way forward and promote the development of media literacy skills.
Nevertheless, the report noted that “there has been no concrete output as to the way forward. The first chairperson of the Board was replaced just five months after he was appointed, and media literacy is still not an intrinsic part of the curriculum but rather one of the subjects that individual schools may offer as a non-compulsory option at the secondary school level”.
Malta also ranks 26th out of the 41 countries surveyed in this year’s Media Literacy Index by the Open Society Institute, garnering 44 points out of a possible 100 (with 100 being the best).
Malta is also placed in the study’s third cluster out of five. The cluster analysis looks at groups of countries with identical characteristics along the indicators of the Media Literacy Index.
The best-performing countries are in the 1st cluster, and the worst-performing are in the 5th and last group. The third cluster, where Malta is placed, has several countries the study considers “transitional” and at risk of slipping further down the ranking.
Moreover, one of the indicators used to reach the overall media literacy score is based on the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) Score in literacy, where Malta scored 30 out of 100. Malta also lands below the OECD’s average for distinguishing facts from opinion.
That’s not to say that Malta has no initiatives to improve media literacy. The Directorate for Digital Literacy & Transversal Skills within the Ministry of Education has a website dedicated to promoting digital literacy in primary and secondary schools, with lesson plans for teachers and resources for parents that include elements of media literacy. However, this resource alone is not enough.
A broadcasting authority promoting media literacy
During the OSCE round table, Martina Chapman, the National Coordinator for Media Literacy, Ireland, presented how this association of over 200 members committed to promoting media literacy across Ireland was created.
Media Literacy Ireland is part of the policy set out by Ireland’s Broadcasting Authority (BAI) which is committed to creating a media literacy network. It was formed after the BAI consulted with various stakeholders, understanding that a media literacy policy needs to involve as many interested parties as possible and stand the test of time. “We believe that no single organisation can effectively promote media literacy in isolation”, Chapman added.
Ireland ranks fifth in the Media Literacy Index 2022.
In contrast, little, if anything, is known of the work or initiatives undertaken by Malta’s Media Literacy Development Board. The Board is part of the Ministry of Culture’s portfolio, currently headed by Owen Bonnici, who thus far appears to be in no rush to remedy the media issues in Malta.
When asked whether he intended to propose local legislation to insulate Malta’s Public Broadcaster from state interference, as suggested by the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), Bonnici side-stepped the question by simply replying that “Malta was in favour” of the proposal.
Earlier this year, Bonnici’s office also failed to answer The Shift’s questions about the existence of obligatory annual reports by the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) that detail how the station spends taxpayers’ money and assess whether it is fulfilling its public service obligations.
This aligns with the government’s overall attitude towards media freedom and information in the public interest.
The reform process to safeguard media freedom in Malta has been marred by a flawed consultation process, sub-standard legislative proposals and the government’s chaotic rush to push the media legislation through the House of Representatives.
The government’s attitude to divulging information deemed to be in the public interest is worse still. This attitude is best encapsulated in the 40 appeals against Freedom of Information requests by The Shift, refusing to provide information that both the Data Protection Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal have said should be public.