Why media literacy matters now more than ever: Insights from the third African media convention held in Ghana

Delegates of the 2024 African Media Convention in Accra, Ghana. Photo by African Media Convention organisers, used with permission.

From May 15 to 17, the third edition of the African Media Convention (AMC) was held in Accra, Ghana, under the theme “The African Media We Want: Enhancing Freedom, Innovation, and Environmental Sustainability in a Dynamic World.” The convention brought together media experts, scholars, students, journalists, journalists’ unions and associations, editors, public and private sector representatives, as well as cooperating partners from around the African continent and beyond, including representatives from UNESCO and the African Union Commission.

The agenda highlighted various pressing issues, including a keynote address on the state of media in Africa, a panel discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on new media, and case studies exploring revenue and innovation strategies for sustainability and growth in the news industry.

Conceived in 2021 by the East African Editors Forum, UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union (AU) and UNECA, and the UNESCO National Office in Dar es Salaam, the AMC emerged from a growing need to engage with African media stakeholders in addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing media in the digital age. Recognizing the critical role of a free and vibrant press, the inaugural AMC was convened in 2022 in Arusha, Tanzania, bringing together media stakeholders from across Africa and the African Union Commission.

The AMC has emerged as a pivotal forum for advancing media freedom, innovation, and sustainability across the African continent. Stemming from the esteemed World Press Freedom Day, the convention is a connection point for journalists, editors, policymakers, academics, civil society, and media development partners to convene and deliberate on pertinent issues shaping the media landscape in AU member states. 

Media literacy in the digital age

The proliferation of disinformation fundamentally threatens stable and prosperous African societies. With nearly 400 documented disinformation campaigns across the continent, an alarming quadruple increase from the previous year, the urgency to combat misinformation through media literacy education has become a central focus. The scope of these intentional efforts to distort the information environment for political ends is accelerating at an alarming rate.

For example, UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, especially in the Central African Republic, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have faced increasing disinformation campaigns. These involve false claims that UN forces are supplying weapons to armed groups, aiding terrorists, and illegally exploiting natural resources. Such disinformation undermines the ability of peacekeepers to carry out their mandates and endangers their safety.

West Africa is the region most targeted by disinformation campaigns, accounting for nearly 40 percent of documented cases on the continent. Russia has played a significant role, launching 19 disinformation campaigns in the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger since 2018, among other African nations. The surge in misinformation aligns with the rapid increase in social media usage in Africa, where there are now approximately 400 million active users and 600 million internet users overall.

Addressing this issue of disinformation through media literacy education was a central focus of the recent AMC.

During the opening plenary, Leslie Richer, director of information and communication at the African Union, delivered a thought-provoking speech emphasizing the critical importance of media literacy education in today's digital age. Richer underscored the value of media literacy in empowering individuals to navigate the complex landscape of information with confidence and clarity, fostering informed citizenship.

“Media literacy is not just about understanding how to use various forms of media,” Richer stated, “but also about being able to analyze, evaluate, and create relevant messages that can promote action and have impact.”

In an era of rampant misinformation and disinformation, media literacy plays a vital role in safeguarding against the spread of fake news and online manipulation. As the UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Curriculum highlights, “Media and information literate citizens are able to access, evaluate, use and create information and media content wisely and judiciously.”

Moreover, Richer emphasized the importance of media literacy in promoting diversity and inclusion in media representation. He said that by understanding how media messages are constructed and disseminated, individuals can advocate for more accurate and inclusive portrayals, which is essential for combating stereotypes and promoting understanding across cultural, racial, and socioeconomic divides.

Ghana's efforts to promote media literacy and combat misinformation

Fatimatu Abubakar, minister for information designate, highlighted Ghana's approach: “Ghana has taken proactive measures to tackle misinformation and disinformation,” she said. “Our government implemented initiatives like the Coordinated Mechanism on Safety for Journalists (CMSJ) and the Media Capacity Enhancement Programme (MCEP) to equip journalists with skills and resources while ensuring their safety and security.”

Furthermore, she stated that Ghana launched the Ghana Today website to combat misinformation by providing unfiltered, direct information from various government agencies. “The government has also implemented media literacy programs to educate the public on critical thinking, source evaluation, and verification.”

Abubakar added, “Ghana has drafted a National Action Plan to combat misinformation and disinformation, outlining strategic objectives like enhancing media literacy, strengthening fact-checking mechanisms, promoting ethical journalism, and collaborating with technology platforms. Legal provisions under the Electronic Communications Act 2008 and the Criminal Offenses Act 1960 have been established to sanction those knowingly spreading false information.”

The enactment of the Right to Information Act 2019 promotes transparency, accountability, and citizen empowerment, fostering a society resilient to misinformation.

The rise of AI and the need for inclusivity

In her speech, Richer also addressed the challenges posed by emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence (AI). With AI's growing influence in various sectors, including media, there is a pressing need to ensure fair representation of diverse communities, including those of African descent.

“Already there is a paucity of representation of people of African descent in the tech industry,” Richer stated. “We already see the mishaps with AI that reflect the bias that goes into coding because we are not represented.”

This concern echoes the findings of the AI Now Institute's report on the lack of diversity in the AI sector, which can perpetuate harmful biases and underrepresentation in AI systems. As AI continues to shape our digital landscapes, media literacy becomes a crucial tool for understanding and mitigating these biases, promoting inclusivity, and ensuring that diverse voices are represented fairly, said Richer.

Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, director of the UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union, highlighted UNESCO's efforts to protect journalists, particularly environmental reporters who face increasing threats and violence, and the organization's plans to launch new initiatives dedicated to enhancing media education on environmental issues.

As Leslie Richer highlighted, media literacy education is a catalyst for empowering citizens, combating misinformation and disinformation, and promoting fair and inclusive representation in the evolving digital realm.

As African media professionals and stakeholders continue to convene and collaborate through platforms like the AMC, they play a pivotal role in shaping the future of media literacy and ensuring that African voices and perspectives are amplified and represented fairly in the digital age.



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