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Information science (social aspects)
Recent developments in European media policy have given priority to the notion that all citizens need to be digitally literate to fully participate in the emerging Information Society. Media literacy or digital literacy, it is argued, will be required to able to exercise informed choices, understand the nature of content and services and take advantage of the full range of opportunities offered by new communications technologies. Further, being media literate, citizens will be better able to protect themselves and their families from harmful or offensive material. The inclusion of media literacy within the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (Commission of the European Communities 2007), Europe’s main instrument of media policy, and the requirement that the European Commission will be required to report on levels of media literacy across the EU25 is an indication of the significance attached to it at a political level.
Commentators have noted that the new emphasis on media literacy in public policy represents a significant shift of responsibility from collective forms of regulation and control, represented by legislation and regulatory control at member state level, to the individual who is now deemed responsible and assumed to be capable of making informed choices in matters of communication and social interaction in today’s mediated environment (Livingstone, Lunt et al. 2007; Penman and Turnbull 2007). The ideal subject of digital literacy appears to represent a form of ethical individualism in which the source of moral values and principles, and the basis of ethical evaluation is the individual (Lukes 1973). The collective norms and standards that operated in the ‘old’ media world, whether involving filtering of content or requirements for transparency and fairness, it might be argued, no longer apply or can no longer be imposed. This policy turn raises a number of pressing questions. As the internet and online technologies become embedded in everyday life, vulnerable subjects such as children, young people and their families who tend to be in the vanguard of new media adoption, are exposed to a range of good and bad experiences, risks and opportunities, for which they may be unprepared. The traditional institutional supports of education, regulation and trusted information sources such as public broadcasting have less influence in a more fragmented public sphere and individuals may be required to rely on more tacit forms of knowledge to inform ethical conduct.
This paper will examine what ethical individualism in the context of digital literacy might mean. Through a discourse analysis of policy formulations in European Commission, UNESCO and Council of Europe documents, the paper presents a typology of subject positions and asks whether the apparent ethical individualism is in fact what is intended. It examines the practical ethical situations which citizens and consumers now face and contributes to an ongoing policy discussion on the future of regulation in a converged media environment.
Commission of the European Communities (2007). Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). Brussels, European Commission
Livingstone, S., P. Lunt, et al. (2007). "Citizens, consumers and the citizen-consumer: articulating the citizen interest in media and communications regulation." Discourse & Communication 1(1): 63-89.
Lukes, S. (1973). Individualism. Oxford, Blackwell.
Penman, R. and S. Turnbull (2007). Media literacy - concepts, research and regulatory issues. Canberra, Australian Communications and Media Authority.
O’Neill, B. ‘Communication Rights, Digital Literacy and Ethical Individualism in the New Media Environment’, Paper given to the Communication Policy and Technology Section, IAMCR Annual Conference- Human Rights and Communication, Mexico City, July 21-24, 2009.