October 2017, No. 3 Vol. LIV 2017, Prevention

Since its inception more than 10 years ago, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) recognized media literacy as an educational and cultural area that needed to be addressed, particularly when aiming at building bridges of better understanding between individuals of different religious and cultural backgrounds.  UNAOC sees the field of media literacy as an opportunity for the development of peacebuilding initiatives, addressing polarization that too often provokes identity-based violent confrontations.

The Report of the High-level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations notes:

The constant exposure of populations to media presents an educational challenge, which has increased in the electronic and digital age. Evaluating information sources requires skills and critical thinking … . Separating fact from opinion, evaluating text and image for bias, and constructing and deconstructing a text based on principles of logic are teachable skills. Media literacy instruction is not widely recognized for its importance as an aspect of civic and peace education and therefore few instructional programs have been developed as part of basic modern education. 1

The Report recommends that “media literacy programs should be implemented in schools, particularly at the secondary level, to help develop a discerning and critical approach to news coverage by media consumers” and “to promote media awareness and development of Internet literacy to combat misperceptions, prejudices and hate speech.”2

UNAOC took these recommendations to task. At its first forum in Madrid in January 2008, it presented a Media Literacy Clearinghouse that has continued to grow, becoming the main United Nations platform for the global and multilingual distribution of media literacy-relevant resources and information.  One of the outputs of that first forum was the creation, in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), of a global network of universities working on media literacy as a platform for intercultural dialogue.

UNAOC agrees with the former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said, following the adoption of the Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014),3 that “over the long term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of the missiles—it is the politics of inclusion”.4 UNAOC also recognizes in line with the preamble of that resolution that education and developing counternarratives to the promotion of violence and conflict, particularly on the Internet, are key elements when working towards the prevention of violent extremism.

In media literacy education, UNAOC works closely with UNESCO, not only in the activities and outputs of the mentioned global network of universities, but also by publishing resources aiming at providing information to educators and policymakers. Of particular relevance is the 2016 Yearbook: Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,5 produced by UNAOC and jointly published with UNESCO and the Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research (NORDICOM) in English and Arabic.

UNAOC has also engaged in research initiatives, always understanding media literacy as a platform for intercultural dialogue and violence prevention. A good example of such engagement is the “Ground Zero Mosque” Case Study,6 initiated by UNAOC in 2011 and carried out by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media and the Public Agenda and the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Gabinete de Comunicación y Educación. The research focused on the contextual analysis of the media representation of that phenomenon—the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy in New York and the social resistance it generated – by looking at the media messages covering the events on mass media outlets (television and print) in the United States of America, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

Earlier this year, UNAOC and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) co-organized a panel discussion titled “Media and Information Literacy: Educational Strategies for the Prevention of Violent Extremism,” where experts from Europe, Asia, the United States of America, Latin America and the Middle East discussed the opportunities and the challenges of implementing Media Literacy programmes as effective channels for preventing violent extremism (PVE).

UNAOC understands that censoring media which is perceived as potentially harmful will not effectively curtail the spread of media messages appealing to youth with violent extremist narratives. We recognize that developing media literacy education and practicing critical thinking skills applied to media messages, in formal and informal pedagogical practices, constitute a better and more sustainable long-term investment in PVE.

With this in mind, UNAOC has also organized media literacy seminars for public primary and middle school educators in Egypt and Morocco in collaboration with local universities and national Governments. Teachers followed a three-day seminar acquiring the basic knowledge on how to include media literacy in their pedagogical practices.

UNAOC commitment to continue working on media literacy as an extended form of peacebuilding education also includes other initiatives. Aiming at empowering youth to create their own media productions and providing channels for their social inclusion, UNAOC partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) creating and developing PLURAL+. This project, which celebrates its ninth year in 2017, is an annual youth-produced video festival on the topics of migration, diversity, social inclusion and the prevention of xenophobia. The UNAOC concept of media literacy is therefore expanded to include the support of youth social inclusion by providing channels of global distribution to their own media messages and by assuring that their ethically produced media messages find platforms for distribution across the world.  

Our interest in media literacy continues to grow and evolve. The upcoming panel discussion organized by UNAOC at United Nations Headquarters entitled “Unraveling #fakenews from Opinion-making Information: A News Literacy Discussion” and the PEACEapp workshops—where young refugees work together with youth from their host country in the development of video games—are just two recent examples of the wide scope of UNAOC media literacy initiatives.7

UNAOC understands that developing critical thinking skills while also providing opportunities for mediated social inclusion of youth are certainly practical forms of addressing the prevention of violent extremism through media literacy.


  1. United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Report of the High-level Group (New York, United Nations, 2006), p. 26. Available from www.unaoc.org/resource/alliance-of-civilizations-report-of-the-high-level-group-13-november-2006/.
  2. Ibid., p. 34.
  3. S/RES/2178 (2014).
  4. Quoted in Security Council 7272nd Meeting, Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution Condemning Violent Extremism, Underscoring Need to Prevent Travel, Support for Foreign Terrorist Fighters, SC/11580, 24 September 2014. Available from http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11580.doc.htm.
  5. For more information on UNAOC MIL publications, see our joint website at https://milunesco.unaoc.org.
  6. See United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, “Uncovering Media Bias: The ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Case Study”, 14 September 2011. Available from https://www.unaoc.org/2011/09/uncovering-media-bias-the-“ground-zero-mosque”-case-study/.
  7. For more information on UNAOC Media Literacy initiatives and resources, see www.unaoc.org/media-information-literacy.