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Brazil’s Strategic Approach to Media Literacy

I met Mariana Filizola at the G20 Promoting Information Integrity meetings in Sao Paolo which she helped organise as the General Coordinator for Media Education in the Brazilian Ministry of Social Communication. Mariana leads the Department for Media Education which was established by the Lula Government in 2023. One of the first activities of the Department was to produce the Brazilian Media Education Strategy which sets out the Brazilian government’s strategic approach promoting and advancing media education among all citizens. After our initial meeting I sent Mariana a series of questions to learn more about the work her Department are doing. 

Can you tell me about the Brazilian Government Department of Media Literacy—when was it established and why? 

The department is part of the Secretariat for Digital Policies (SPDIGI), which is established within the Secretariat of Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic (SECOM-PR). The Secretariat has the status of a Presidential Ministry. Besides Media Education, we also have as institutional mission the promotion of digital rights and protection of children and vulnerable audiences online, the sustainability of journalism in the digital space and the promotion of freedom of speech.

Do you have a definition or framework you use for media literacy?

As outlined in the Brazilian Media Education Strategy launched in 2023, we understand media education as a fundamental practice focused on critical, informed, and autonomous interpretation of the world — a notion echoed by the eminent Brazilian educational philosopher Paulo Freire as “the competence of competences”. It empowers individuals to be critical consumers of media and active participants in the production and dissemination of information, promoting a more informed and engaged media environment. Also, it is important to expand this concept to encompass its connection to culture, participation and identity formation, acknowledging media as powerful tools that influence our essence, existence, and perception of the world.

Given our increasingly mediated existence in the digital environment, media education emerges as essential for understanding our interaction with media and their role in fostering informed citizenship, enabling us to construct meaning and shape our reality. By focusing on the development of media education we aim to expand dialogue and social participation, thereby strengthening democracy.

The Brazilian Media Education Strategy sets out your main priorities. Do you have specific targets you are working toward when it comes to children and adults?

We are currently implementing comprehensive media education policies in partnership with the Ministry of Education, addressing initially the Brazilian formal education system, from primary to high school students. Within these policies, we have as a priority the training of teachers, recognizing them as multipliers focused on the development of students’ critical thinking in schools. Another example of the construction of this policy is the commitment established in Brazil’s Action Plan, conducted by the Brazilian Office of the Comptroller General (CGU) within the framework of the Open Government Partnership, highlighting the importance of Digital and Media Education for the elderly. It is also important to note that public policies on media education are developed with sensitivity to the local realities of different territories and communities in all Brazilian regions.

How will you track your progress in developing media literacy over time?

Tracking progress in developing media literacy over time is quite challenging. There is currently no consensus on specific parameters or indicators to measure media literacy worldwide, especially if we consider that media literacy is a life-long learning process.

When we are talking about the Brazilian Media Education Strategy, this challenge gets even more complex both in terms of scale and results of public policies, since the Brazilian strategy involves interministerial and intersectional approaches. Considering this scenario, we have established baseline metrics to track the reach of the strategic actions, such as teacher’s trainings and supporting State Education Secretariats for the implementation of local curricula and media literacy projects.

Lastly, promoting transparency and accountability ensures that progress remains visible, and commitments are honoured, bolstering trust and ensuring effective utilization of resources.

In Brazil I heard media literacy practitioners and researchers talking about the upcoming ‘Media Literacy Olympics’ led by your Department. Can you explain what this is and what will happen?

The “Media Education Olympics” represents a large-scale impactful project currently in development, with the support and coordination of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation’s Secretariat for Popularization of Science, as well as our team, along with two universities from different regions of the country. The objective of this initiative is to engage 400,000 high school students and 100,000 teachers in scientific activities aimed at promoting critical media literacy in different educational contexts related to the integrity of information debates, such as environmental issues, health and vaccine, democracy and Internet Governance.

Are there many organisations doing media literacy projects in Brazil? How will your Department work with these different groups and organisations?

In Brazil there are important civil society organizations which have been developing a long lasting and solid work on media education and related themes. At our department, we mobilized the civil society in the beginning of 2023 to contribute to the participatory process of creating the Brazilian Media Education Strategy, through a public consultation. In this national consultation, we asked which themes they believed should be prioritized in the development of the national policies. The results were very promising, with more than 418 contributions from NGOs, groups and other organizations. Most of the contributions highlighted the necessity of training educators across the country in media education.

We have also recently signed a technical cooperation agreement with a group of organizations that are partners in the field of media education. Through their expertise, we have worked together in different projects, such as the development of technical contributions for the inclusion of media literacy in broad education policies, as well as launched together the first ever collection of online formation for Brazilian educators in media education, hosted in the Ministry of Education official online learning platform.

Are there plans to provide funding for media literacy projects? If so, what will the focus of this funding be?

In 2023 we have promoted the first Brazilian National Media Education Week, in partnership with UNESCO, as the Brazilian chapter for the Global MIL Week. There were no fundings involved, but through this week we have promoted and encouraged more than 400 initiatives of media education across the country, mobilizing around 54,0000 people in schools, organizations and Universities. We plan on having the second edition this year, hoping to reach even more educators and students.  Apart from that, we are currently developing a specific plan to map and promote media literacy projects with fundings.

Why are the Lula government putting this new emphasis on ‘Information Integrity’? Does the government understand media literacy as an important element of information integrity?

We are putting an emphasis on Information Integrity in alignment with international standards set by the UN, OECD, and supported by over 30 countries in a joint declaration. We understand that facing the challenges of the digital sphere involves acting in multiple fronts, and the concept of information integrity recognizes the critical need for accurate, consistent, and reliable information to ensure democratic governance and social stability. It also materializes the collective dimension of the right to freedom of speech and access to information.

In practical terms, focusing on Information Integrity encompasses several key actions: it involves the regulation of the digital market and services to prevent the spread of misinformation, promoting media education and literacy to empower citizens to critically evaluate information sources, and strengthening public interest journalism to ensure a steady flow of reliable information.

We can highlight media education in this approach as the [focus] that puts educating for the use of media as a crucial path to reduce vulnerability to disinformation and promote responsible ways to produce, consume and share information.

How did you come to be working in this area of media literacy?

I first heard of media literacy and media education as a communications student and got fascinated by the idea of promoting a critical literacy focusing on media. By that time I was living in the Amazon region and started work in an NGO as part of a news literacy project with riparian students. I then decided to study and understand better how we could go beyond small and dispersed projects and foster the development of public policies in a national level, which led me to my MA in Media and education at the University College London’s Institute of Education, and then to the Department of Media Education in the Brazilian Government. Both a huge honour and challenge, considering that we started developing public policies in this field from scratch.

Interview by Tanya Notley.