An interview with the MELIA Project Manager prof. Matevž Tomšič (School of Advanced Social Studies Nova Gorica, Slovenija) was published in a newspaper Družina on 22. 10. 2020. The interview was held after the project Kickoff event. We hereby publish its translated summary.
Active citizenship for positive contribution to the community
The essence of active citizenship is the participation of people in all those activities that are in the public interest what means that they concern a community as a whole (whether local, national or wider), working to improve life in it. An integral part of this, of course, is also engagement in political decision-making processes. For civic engagement to make a positive contribution to community development, appropriate civic competencies are needed, ie. knowledge, skills and virtues.
The ancient Greeks already knew the concept of paidea, which referred to a set of qualities that make someone a good citizen. And in today’s world, media literacy is undoubtedly one of the most important civic competencies. It is about people being able to understand and interpret media messages, ie. to deduce from them the true essence and purpose. A media literate person is a well-informed person who has developed resistance to media propaganda and manipulation.
Media literacy and technological development
Technological development is drastically changing the media world. More and more information is provided in this way, so if a person wants to be well informed, he/she must be skilled in using new technologies.
However, this is only one aspect of 21st-century media literacy. With the advent of social networks, the amount of information we face in our daily lives has multiplied. Their scope often seems unmanageable. The main challenge in such a situation is to “separate the grain from the chaff”, that is, to identify which information is credible and which falls within the scope of so-called "fake news."
Youth and media literacy
Young people are the ones who will play a key role in the political and other life of our communities in the coming decades. Also, media education should start early enough.
However, it is necessary to know how to approach young people properly. The experience of European countries differs in the field of youth media literacy. There are large differences in the quality of media education within the Danube region. The former communist countries lag far behind the developed western countries, especially in terms of legislation and policies to promote media literacy.
Even where some normative framework exists, it is often outdated. The media world is changing very rapidly and institutions in developed western democracies are responding more quickly.
Media pluralism in the service of democracy
Media pluralism is extremely important for the functioning of a developed democracy. The American classic of political science Robert Dahl, as one of the conditions for so-called polyarchy, highlighted the “existence of alternative sources of information”. This refers to a diverse media space that provides citizens with information about a particular phenomenon from different angles, allowing it to be informed as comprehensively as possible. Only in this way they can make well-considered political decisions.
The existence of politically and ideologically diverse media is also a condition for an open and fair political competition in which no political party is privileged and no one is neglected.
Populism as a political phenomenon
Populism is a highly diversified political phenomenon. It is difficult to draw a clear line between populist and non-populist politics. Every successful politician has contained at least some populist features. It is not just populists who are adept at using social networks and present themselves as authentic representatives of the people.
Moreover, populists differ in their ideological orientations. We know of right-wing and left-wing and even central populism: many populists claim to go beyond traditional political divisions and even present themselves as non-politicians. This kind of anti-political orientation is often part of populist discourse.
How can populism be understood
Populism can be understood in several ways. It can be understood as a political strategy for mobilizing voters, as a way of political communication or as a political ideology (which is not particularly elaborated and is often contradictory within itself).
A common feature of populists of all kinds is pronounced anti-elitism, as they portray established political elites as corrupt, irresponsible and oppressive; they present themselves as protectors of "ordinary people" against these "anti-human" elites. The term "populism" is often used in public discourse for political discrediting.
Traditional politics and dominant media often portray t. i. populists as the culprits for the main problems of modern societies. It is true that populism is based on a markedly simplified portrayal of the situation, and therefore does not offer adequate solutions to key social problems. However, populism is not responsible for them. Most populist parties and movements do not participate in government.
Štefanič Bogomir: Preveriti je treba vsako informacijo. Interview with Matevž Tomšič. Newspaper Družina 47/2020, issued 22.12.2020.