By Yao Ydo
“Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed” This is UNESCO’s Constitution preamble. It shows the power that is embedded in learning.
Over the past years, the number of reported attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups have risen. As we witness disasters created by these attacks on all continents, we understand that violent extremism knows no boundaries and affects every society. Young people are, however, most at risk. They are the main targets of recruitment and fall victim to extremist violence. This phenomenon alerts us to the risk of losing a generation of youth to despair and disengagement.
In the same vein, you will agree with me that many of the violent and destructive conflicts in the society today are the results of hate speech or unfounded news that has no root or foundation. Fake news as we all know, is recognized as misinformation ecosystem, a story that is not genuine, information that is customized to deceive people, create bias or destroy a man or the entire society. It is also use as a political propaganda to pull down an opponent or enhance a politician’s image or as a means of bending the truth for political gains. Mark Twain has once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
The stakes are high; fake news, hate speech and violent extremism are affront to the principles of the United Nations, embodied in respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. They are rising threats to societies. Therefore, they all call for actions across the board and the long-term that strengthen the foundations for solidarity. UNESCO is drawing on all of its strengths, to deepen cooperation through education, the sciences, culture and communication, supporting Member States, civil society actors, academia and private sectors in order to prevent and reduce all these mayhems created via the internet.
The evolution of internet has given room to the unprofessional journalists to thrive. Everyone with a small device sees himself as a journalist, willing to broadcast to the world as the first person to click the button. The internet then becomes a force for good or bad actions. This is where Media and Information Literacy comes in. MIL can encourage the celebration of connectivity across cultures to counter radicalism and extremism by drawing attention to the need for all citizens to understand how as individuals, in a given context, make sense of their experiences.
Although Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ Media and information literacy (MIL) therefore, equips citizens with competencies needed to seek and enjoy the full benefits of this fundamental human right with hindrance. Media and information literacy programmes are essential here, to help youth better identify and reject extremist propaganda. At the heart of media and information literacy, lies the need to empower citizens with essential knowledge about the functions of media and information systems in democratic societies.
UNESCO’s position is clear – the internet and new ICTs must be platforms for positive engagement, peace, promoting respect for human rights and dignity, enabling dialogue and mutual understanding. There has been a lot of interest during the last two decades in realizing the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for achieving socio-economic development. Therefore, MIL has the potential to become a powerful and positive force in Nigeria’s difficult transition to peace, democracy and development. In this regard, the youth is trained to evaluate the media they read, hear and see and to speak for themselves.
According to the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova “Our task must be to empower a new generation of digital citizens at the global level – starting with education, new intercultural skills, and deeper media and information literacy.” The youth equation holds the key to the future of many countries – especially those experiencing tensions or emerging from conflict.
In order to support its member States to face violent extremisms, UNESCO has initiated “Preventing Violent Extremism” (PVE) initiatives that lay emphasis on sensitization and capacity building of youth, for more critical analysis of the information they are exposed to, and that can engender violence.
On the other hand, we are working with Ministries of ED, for education programs that integrate PVE modules.
It would be of great joy, that the Federal Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission, Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council and other relevant Agencies to take advantage of this rare opportunity, to begin the possibility of mainstreaming this curriculum in our Education system.
I want to thank you for your kind attention and implore you to make the best of this training.
Yao Ydo is UNESCO Regional Director, Abuja, Nigeria. He delivered this welcome address during the train the trainers workshop on Media & Information Literacy, July 18, 2017.