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Media Freedom and Pluralism

Beata Klimkiewicz

Section 1. Media policy rationales and models

Chapter 3. From Media Policy to Integrated Communications Policy

How to Apply the Paradigm Shift on a European and National Level

Halliki Harro-Loit

Texte intégral

1A media policy paradigm has shifted from a media to a communication-noriented approach. At the same time the modern information environment requires different communicative competences from everyone. A comparison between EU communication and education policies reveals common elements, referring mostly to the individual’s ability to seek, choose, process, analyze, and evaluate the information he or she needs.

2The aim of this study is to propose a new integrated communications policy model and to discuss how this model would help the media better perform as a cultural service for society and democracy. Although the EU policy documents use different concepts and expressions (media literacy/communication skills or competences; consumers/citizens), the mutual objective is the individual’s ability to make conscious choices and process information in the modern communication environment.

3Small media markets (like the Baltic countries) are more vulnerable to the liberal market-oriented media policy trend, in which consumer needs are better served than citizen needs. Therefore it is important to merge the communication and education policy into one integrated concept when it is implemented on a national level.

3.1. A new communications policy paradigm: the liberal approach balanced by a literate individual

4Since the 1980s the old normative media policies have been challenged, and policymakers are searching for a new communications policy paradigm. Mainly due to technological and economic convergence, separate media and telecommunications policies lean towards an integrated communications policy. There seems to be a shift in values: Generally policy has to follow the logic of the marketplace, technology, and the wishes of consumers rather than impose its goals (van Cuilenburg and McQuail, 2003, pp. 181, 200, 201). New communications technology clearly puts more choices in the hands of the individual user. At the same time, a crucial question is whether the “consumer” or “customer” is taking over from the “citizen” in the communications sector. The consumer interest is and will continue to be interpreted narrowly in terms of price, choice, and value for money, thus legitimating the economic model of regulation. Most academics concerned with media policy (Livingstone and Lunt, 2007, referring to the studies completed by Murdock and Golding 1989, Graham 1999, Hamelink 2003) agree that access to information and communication resources is fundamental for an informed citizenry and a prerequisite for democratic participation (Livingstone and Lunt 2007, pp. 53, 62–63). Van Cuilenburg and McQuail (2003) propose three concepts that are central to any new communications policy model: freedom of communication, access, and control/accountability. “Freedom of communication and free and equal access are related to the question of who is in control of the actual communication process […] access has to be understood both in terms of being able to receive and to send” (van Cuilenburg and McQuail, 2003, p. 204).

5On February 1, 2006, the Commission of the European Communities adopted a White Paper on a European Communication Policy. According to this document, any successful EU communications policy must be centered on citizens’ needs (European Commission, 2006a). It should therefore focus on providing the tools and facilities— the forums for debate and the channels of public communication—that will give as many people as possible access to information and the opportunity to make their voice heard. Future work in this area could aim at three main objectives (p. 6):

  • improving civic education;

  • connecting citizens with each other;

  • connecting citizens and public institutions.

6On December 19, 2007, the audiovisual Media service directive (AVMSD; directive 2007/65/EC) entered into force (European Parliament and the Council, 2007). The directive reaffirms the European audiovisual model, but among other new trends it provides more flexible rules on TV advertising to better finance audiovisual content and suggests low barriers to entry as the basic principles of the internal market. One counterbalance to the market liberalization ideology should be media literacy and self- and co-regulation of the media sector. Section 37 of the AVMSD says that “media literacy” refers to skills, knowledge, and understanding that allow consumers (emphasis added—H.HL.) to use media effectively and safely, exercise informed choices, and protect themselves from harmful material. The development of media literacy in all sections of society should be promoted.

3.2. EU policy on media literacy in the context of key competences and communications policy

  • 1 The eight domains of key competences are: 1) communication in one’s mother tongue; 2) communication (...)

7in order to achieve the strategic goals for the European union (“to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world...”—Lisbon European Council 2000), the European Commission has identified “eight key competences for lifelong learning”1 (European Commission—DG education and Culture, 2004). On December 18, 2006, the document was accepted by the European Parliament. Communication competences are crucial and are related to critical thinking, high-level information management skills, and well-developed communication skills. These competences are a prerequisite for a satisfactory personal performance in life, work, and subsequent learning. They include the ability to read and understand different texts for various purposes; the ability to search, collect and process written information, data, and concepts in order to use them in study and organize knowledge in a systematic way; and the ability to distinguish, in listening, speaking, reading, and writing, relevant from irrelevant information. (European Commission — DG education and Culture, 2004, p. 9).

8The aforementioned “eight key competences” and media policy presume that knowledgeable choices made by the individual (versus the paternalistic model) are supported by media-literacy education developed around the world, mainly since the 1990s. The European Commission has a Web-page section on media literacy that provides a definition that corresponds to a great extent with the communications policy model proposed by van Cuilenburg and McQuail (2003). The definition on the EU Commission Web page is the following:

  • 2; retrieved January 27, 2008.

“Media literacy can be defined as the ability to access, analyze and evaluate the power of images, sounds and messages which are now being confronted with on a daily basis and are an important part of our contemporary culture, as well as communicating completely in media available on a personal basis… The aim of media literacy is to increase awareness of the many forms of media messages encountered in their everyday lives. It should help citizens to recognize how the media filter their perceptions and beliefs, shape popular culture and influence personal choices. It should empower them with critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills to make them judicious consumers and producers of information. Media education is part of the basic entitlement of every citizen […] Today Media literacy is one of the key pre-requisites for active and full citizenship.”2

9Hence, the concept of media literacy (media education) is part of this multifunctional package of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that was expressed in the “Key Competences” document.

10In 2006 the European Commission launched an EU-wide survey on best practices on media literacy in the digital age. The Commission’s intention is to eventually adopt a Communication on Media literacy in order to establish grounds for European policy on Media literacy. The far-reaching aim is to add a further building block to European audiovisual policy under the overall 2010 initiative.

3.3. New communications policy and liberalization at use: the case of the Baltic States

11The relationship between the size and wealth of a media market and the level of resources available for the provision of media has clear implications for pluralism and media policy. The Baltic media markets are small (the Lithuanian and Estonian media markets are among the smallest in Europe, with potential audiences of 3.4 million and 1.37 million, respectively). Media policies are generally liberal in the region: none of the three Baltic countries has a law on cross-media ownership, strict rules on political advertising do not exist, and damages awarded for injuries to feelings and reputations are modest. Monitoring of commercial broadcasters and enforcing fulfillment of their legal and license obligations is different in the Baltic States. In Estonia, the Ministry of Culture, as the regulatory body for broadcasting, focuses mainly on fulfillment of the rules for advertising quotas, frequently ordering measurements from TNS EMOR. regular monitoring of the programming issues—concerning, for example, the right of reply, product placement of sponsors, fair conduct prescribed by the Broadcasting act, and fulfillment of other responsibilities of the executive producers—has been rare, performed ad hoc in the course of receiving complaints. In Lithuania, the broadcasting sector is monitored by different institutions (inspector of Journalist ethics, radio and Television Commission), and these institutions also enjoy competences to impose fines. Cases may concern advertising content or placement of advertising in the programs, but very often other cases are also evaluated, such as protection of minors against the detrimental effects of public information or matters related to dignity or honor. In 2003 the Code of administrative Violations was enforced, and the Monitoring Center was created in Latvia. This center analyzes the content of the one-day output of three television channels and two radio channels (open society institute, 2005, pp. 976–977).

12The liberal media policy creates a dichotomous situation. On the one hand, market-oriented media policy opens an unrestricted arena for media development. An over-fragmented industry and the lack of legal barriers against concentration limit resources to produce the content that meets the minimum quality standards for information in a democratic state. On the other hand, liberal regulation and the virtual absence of state intervention in the matters of mass media create favorable conditions for market-oriented logic to proliferate (Balčytienė and Harro-Loit, forthcoming).

13This market-oriented approach is most transparent in broadcasting policy. as the private broadcasters in the Baltic states (especially in Latvia and Lithuania) have few legal obligations regarding public service remit, the public broadcasting program is vitally important for citizen information (open society institute, 2005). In Estonia the complete removal of advertising from the schedules of the public service broadcasting (TV in 1998 and radio in 2005) helped to make the program more appropriate for the needs of different groups in society. Nevertheless, the funding of public broadcasting has lacked stability and sufficiency. Latvian and Lithuanian public broadcasting are funded by state subsidy and advertising. As there is no precise definition in Lithuanian law on how to determine the level of the state subsidy, the public broadcasters have balanced fulfillment of their public service mission against attempts to maximize ratings in prime time (open society institute, 2005, pp. 985–986, 1042, 1065). In Lithuania and Estonia there has not been serious political interference compromising the editorial independence of public broadcasting. However, in Latvia the national radio and Television Council has not acted to defend public media against political pressure (open society institute, 2005, p. 979).

14The crucial question of whether the “consumer” or “customer” is taking over from the “citizen” is linked with the question of whether it is possible to give the public broadcasting service greater legitimacy in the media landscape. Hence, while the general EU policy is oriented towards liberalization and free competition, it is reasonable to keep the main goal of communications policy—“empowerment of an individual”—and support the regulation that guarantees the public sector media activities.

  • 3 According to the Estonian business paper Äripäev, in 2001, the monthly ADSL internet connection pri (...)

15The communications policy that guarantees access to the internet has been especially efficient in Estonia. The rapid increase in internet usage since the end of the 1990s is related to several factors, such as government initiatives, liberalization of the telecommunications market (foreign investments, increasing competition, and decreasing prices), and the development of e-banking. All government institutions were pooled into one e-government services portal ( in 1998, and in 2004 the e-citizen project was implemented. Under government and NGO initiatives, the internet was made accessible for segments of the population that are of little interest to commercial vendors—the focus has been on schools and rural areas. Tiigrihüpe (Tiger’s leap), Estonia’s IT program, has provided computers and software for schools and helped to connect all the schools nationwide to the internet. Since 2001, competition in the Estonian telecommunications market increased, resulting in a drop in consumer prices for internet access.3 The low cost in Estonia enabled a critical mass of Estonian citizens to get internet access, especially at home, and internet banking already started in 1996. Frequent internet users in Estonia enjoy various advantages; internet communication (especially among young people) is multifunctional. It has been used for services, interpersonal communication, and information searches.

16The well-orchestrated decisions and investments had far-reaching results. The number of those in Estonia using the internet frequently (daily, or a few times per week) gradually increased. Sixty-five percent of the population (768,000 inhabitants) uses the internet. Every second person between the ages of 6 and 74 uses the internet at least five days per week. In Latvia, 48 percent of the population (between 15 and 74) has used the internet sometime in the last six months; in Lithuania 37 percent; in Estonia 63 percent (EMOR, 2008). The number of internet users in Estonia gradually increased more than four times from 2002 to 2006. Latvia and Lithuania, which previously had lower internet access and expansion of use than Estonia, are now developing rapidly in this area and approaching the levels of their Bal-tic neighbor.

3.4. Education policy implementation on media literacy and communications skills—reflected in the national curricula

17Unlike media policy, media literacy and communications competences are fairly recent policy issues. Several of the central issues have been addressed since the 1980s, but the movement has received increased support in recent years (Yates, 2004). According to Lemmen (2005), EU Member states already have substantial media education activity; the Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Hungary provide positive examples. Structures for implementation of media education in schools differ from one country to the next, depending on the priorities of the government and funding. The United Kingdom, for example, has gone through a considerable public policy debate over the nature of skills and abilities needed to navigate through today’s information society. In Baltic countries, media literacy has only recently started to develop as a policy issue. There are no policy documents that give legitimacy to media literacy either as a substantial part of citizens’ education or as a national communications policy.

18One reason that might create problems in this area is the diffusive nature of the subject. Media education varies widely across Europe, not only in terms of its terminology—the most common versions including media education, media literacy, information literacy, moving image education—but also in terms of its implementation (Lemmen, 2005). Media literacy can be implemented in national curricula as a cross-curricular objective/theme or can be handled as a separate school subject. Media literacy competences could be used in programs designed to promote health or citizens’ education (production of a film or article, analysis of different types of text on health, or publishing a school newspaper) or could be more narrowly oriented to the training of critical information seeking and processing abilities (critical thinking). The goal of media education could also provide a grounding upon which students can better develop their own idiosyncratic responses (Kubey, 2005).

19A broader agreement has been generated around the fact that communication skills are not limited to one specific field, but include more general competences (Reid and Scott, 2005, p. 183). Given this diversity of definitions in the literature, it remains an open question whether a media literacy concept includes communicative skills that empower individuals to seek, choose, analyze, evaluate, and create information (different types of texts), or whether it is the communication ability that encompasses “media literacy.”

20In Estonia media literacy and computer competency, as well as safety, environment, and career planning are cross-curricular themes (national Curricula, hereafter abbreviated as RÕK, Estonian Ministry of education, 2002, para. 10, section 4). Media education could also be seen as a special subject (one can finish a secondary school by taking this as a final exam, after completion of a 105-hour course). The content of this special course is not strictly regulated and can therefore be freely created by the teacher. In addition, certain sub-topics are written into the national curricula of specific subjects (e.g. introduction to the journalistic genres in the Estonian language curriculum; advertising, manipulation and source analysis in social science class).

21The communication competence is defined as a key competence: “ability to understand, memorize, spread, interpret and create texts via language. Generally it is the ability to communicate in different situations in writing and orally” (RÕK, 2002). This definition partly overlaps the internationally accepted (EU Commission) definition of media literacy, except for the critical thinking and reading abilities. Little documented material is available on how these competences should be taught in the classroom (methodologically) and what resources would be needed. In other words, the concept of media literacy (or a communications competence) is vague and unfeasible, unless the school is motivated to develop a more focused approach. The vagueness of the concept becomes apparent when we analyze the level of generalization. For example, the national curriculum requires that children be able, by Grades 4 to 6, to distinguish between fact and opinion. Unlike the EU policy paper on “8 key competences,” the national curriculum does not provide the elements of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to afford the application of this very concrete skill in different classes. In order to distinguish a fact from an opinion in history documents or news stories, children should acquire the ability to “read and understand different texts” and “adopt strategies appropriate to various reading purposes” (European Commission—DG education and Culture, 2004, p. 9)

22Another requirement is that the child “should be able to seek information from various channels, interpret, use and spread information” (RÕK, 2002, para. 19, sections 15–17). The methodologically crucial questions, such as: What the different channels are, how to distinguish between discourse or text types, etc., are being left uncertain.

23Without clearly defined concepts of communications competences and media literacy, the whole communications policy shift on a national level remains bound in ambiguities. It is a vicious circle: a successful integration of media education into the initial teacher training depends on the infrastructure, the context and the curriculum (Lemmen, 2005). In Estonia the teachers’ training has been hectic (as well as the curriculum), most of these projects have been initiated by various non-profit organizations (integration Foundation, “Tiigrihüpe”; open Estonian Foundation). Textbooks are oriented to special media classes/courses and less to a cross-curricular approach. The textbooks (Estonian language and literature, social sciences) that include mediarelated topics are mostly theme-oriented (advertising, news) rather than focused on training of communication competences.

24In 2005–2006, the interdisciplinary group of researchers at the University of Tartu proposed an idea to develop and communicate the concept of cross-curricularity: the possibility to train key competences as well as to develop integration between separate subjects. The concept of media literacy and communication competences was integrated and contextualized as a substantive part of citizens’ education. Due to national political upheaval, the new curriculum was not implemented. Thus the biggest barrier to the implementation of the advanced media literacy and communications skills concept rests with the lack of political will and decisions concerning citizen education in an information society.

25In Latvia the reform of the national curriculum in 1998 did not include a media education concept; the emphasis is on the interpersonal communication competences.4

  • 5 An e-mail interview conducted with Balčytiene aukse on October 17, 2007.

26In Lithuania, in 2002 a law was passed on the protection of minors against the detrimental effect of mass media, indicating responsibilities and accountability of information providers (editors, journalists) in all mass media including the internet. The program on media and information literacy education (entitled “an actual programme about teaching on provision of public information and human rights for school children of Grades 9–10–11”) was prepared according to the decision by the seimas (the Lithuanian Parliament) related to the annual report of 2003 by the inspector of Journalists’ ethics. The program (project) was initially implemented in 2005 and concluded in 2008. Its goal was to teach students information literacy skills, to stimulate critical thinking and to educate children to use new IT as well as other media-related products. The program also aimed to teach children to use new information products of the knowledge age as well as adequately assess these products to fit individual as well as social needs. The program has been implemented by the Ministry of science and education of the republic of Lithuania, the office of inspector of Journalists’ ethics, the ethics Commission of Journalists and Publishers as well as NGOS. The project was carried out in phases. From 2005 to 2006: it was designed, and from 2006 to 2008 were held public events, increasing knowledge of and support for program goals. The program has been financed from the state budget, as well as public and private funds, with a budget of approximately 700,000 litas (€ 202,734) (Balčytiene Aukse, 2007).5

27This description reveals that the implementation of media literacy in the three Baltic States is in different phases, and the approach is different. The Latvian and Estonian approach is more oriented towards an improvement of the national curriculum, while only the Estonian national curriculum encompasses both media and communication literacy approaches. Lithuania is developing project-based ideas. The Estonian experience has been long enough (since 2002) to discover weak sides of the concept as well as the problems of implementation in everyday practice.

3.5. Integrated communications policy

28As contemporary communications policy depends not only on normative media and telecommunications regulation (embodied in statutory regulation, self-regulation, and market) but also on the social and communication competences of each individual, it would be reasonable to link the communications and education policies. The shift from regulating media organizations, ownership, and content towards “empowering the citizen” and “promoting civic competences” needs to be discussed thoroughly, preferably at a national level, as policy implementation takes place in the national sphere.

Figure 3.1. An extended new communications policy paradigm

Figure 3.1. An extended new communications policy paradigm

29The new communications policy paradigm that was proposed by van Cuilenburg and McQuail (2003) could be extended towards an integrated communications policy. According to McQuail and van Cuilenburg, a general goal of policy is to serve the public interest; economic welfare has risen in comparison with political welfare, and social welfare has been redefined. While defining new policy paradigm (media policy + telecommunications policy = integrated communications policy), van Cuilenburg and McQuail define three domains and values (criteria): political domain, social-cultural domain, economic domain. i propose to add a fourth: educational domain. The criteria for the educational domain would be knowledge (awareness and understanding), skills (abilities) and attitudes.

30Given that education policy is part of a new communications policy, the answer to the question “What form of control can or should be applied to conduct or content (in the public interest)?” could be more balanced towards the interests and needs of the individual and certain social groups.

Table 3.1. Value and criteria framework for the new communications policy model

Table 3.1. Value and criteria framework for the new communications policy model

31A crucial aim of media literacy is to increase awareness of the many forms of media messages and discourses to which individuals have access. Understanding criteria provides real access to the information. For example, mere technical access to the internet would not help people to get the information they need. The critical reading/viewing ability, as well as an ability to distinguish, choose, and process information and formulate one’s arguments, are prerequisites to achieve the goal of a balance between the political and social domain criteria and the economic domain criteria. It is finally an attitude that distinguishes consumers from citizens, especially in circumstances where diversity and choice are basic values of communications policy. In order to send and receive information, certain skills are needed. It is not enough to give power to the consumers. In order to support citizens and a democratic information order, people need more sophisticated tools for conscious decisions.

3.6. Conclusion

32My proposed new integrated communications policy model includes the educational domain as a prerequisite for an EU media policy that would make the citizen its central focus. The political tools (documents) for integrating communications policy and education policy are available at the EU level, although expressed in different documents that belong to different policy domains. However, the implementation of these policy lines occurs at the national level, and thus synergy-building needs a special effort: an interministerial and interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as changes in the national curricula. The task of the integrated policy model is to recognize those factors in different domains that support each other.

33Small media markets share specific conditions: the total resources available for media provision might be smaller than those available for a minority in large communication markets. Under these circumstances, a different conceptualization of communications policy is needed. The diversity of a media content production is more vulnerable than access to receiving and sending information. The public broadcasting sector has a significant role to play in the development of content diversity. In the Estonian experience, a public broadcasting program without advertising increases the choice and quality criteria. In addition, public broadcasting could promote media literacy along with the education system.


1 The eight domains of key competences are: 1) communication in one’s mother tongue; 2) communication in foreign languages; 3) competences in math, science, and technology; 4) digital competence; 5) learning to learn; 6) interpersonal, intercultural, and social competences, and civic competence; 7) entrepreneurship; 8) cultural expression. Communication skills are generally developed through different subject areas: first, second, fourth, fifth. The definition of digital competence involves the confident and critical use of electronic media for work, leisure and communication. These competences are related to logical and critical thinking, to high-level information management skills, and to well-developed communication skills.

2; retrieved January 27, 2008.

3 According to the Estonian business paper Äripäev, in 2001, the monthly ADSL internet connection prices in the Baltic states were as follows (the prices were calculated from the national exchange rate of 1 Estonian kroon = €15.65): €38 in Estonia (Estonian Telephone), €50.70 in Latvia (lattelekom), and €50.45 in Lithuania (Lietuvas Telekomas).

4; retrieved January 27, 2008.

5 An e-mail interview conducted with Balčytiene aukse on October 17, 2007.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 3.1. An extended new communications policy paradigm
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Titre Table 3.1. Value and criteria framework for the new communications policy model
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Halliki Harro-Loit is associate Professor and Head of the institute of Journalism and Communication at the Tartu University. She gained her PhD from Oslo University in 2002. Her teaching and research interests include media law and ethics, media policy, communication history, media economy and management, journalistic genres and discourse analysis. She has published about 30 articles in scholarly journals and three monographs (including PhD thesis). E-mail:

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