Journalism and Communication Education Prepares Students to Fight Disinformation

When Mount Merapi in Jogjakarta, Indonesia erupted, apart from lava and volcanic ash, disinformation was also spread through social media. Realizing disinformation on the eruption may potentially cause panic and threaten the safety of surrounding communities, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) mobilized its undergraduate and postgraduate students in Communication Science to train high school students and the wider community to recognize, detect and counteract circulating disinformation when Mount Merapi erupted.

Such examples were shared by journalism educators during online discussion on “Preparing Future Journalists: The State of Journalism and Mass Communication Education on Countering Disinformation in ASEAN Countries” which took place on 26 October 2020 organized by UNESCO in collaboration with German Commission for UNESCO.

“Journalism and communication education can play a role in overcoming disinformation by building students’ understanding of media and information literacy (MIL) as well as encouraging student’s involvement in activities against disinformation in society” said Dr Novi Kurnia, the Head of Graduate Programme of Communication Science at UGM in Indonesia.

Dr Kurnia added “by studying subjects such as introduction to journalism, news production, media management as well as new media, UGM believes that its students will have good abilities helping to reduce disinformation”

According to Mr Stephan Mundges, lecturer at TU Dormount University in Germany, who was another speaker of the event, “journalism students are educated to become communication practitioners, especially journalists, in the future. For this reason, universities can take a role in countering disinformation, namely by developing students’ literacy to fight disinformation”. Mundges explained that this can be done by “combining critical thinking analysis skills and communication skills” and could include courses such as media economics and statistics.

Meanwhile, Dr Ray Wang, lecturer at Thammasat University in Thailand, sees that polarization and low media literacy as one of the causes of disinformation that continue to occur in various countries. Dr Wang also agreed that students should be encouraged to play a role in counteracting disinformation, including augmenting the university curriculum with guidelines produced by organizations such as UNESCO.

“Universities can adopt books, such as UNESCO Handbook “Journalism, Fake News, and Disinformation” for student of media and information literacy learning to counter disinformation,” said Dr Wang.

Other speakers for the event included Ms Christine M. Merkel, the Head of Division of Culture, Communication, Memory of the World for German Commission for UNESCO,  Mr. Jesus L.R. Mateo, the Chair of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Education, Dr. Shahbaz Khan, Director and Representative for UNESCO Jakarta as well as Dr. Guy Berger, Director for Strategies and Policies in the Field of Communication and Information for UNESCO.

The online discussion is followed by a three-day online training on countering disinformation for journalism and mass communication educators from Southeast Asian universities.

UNESCO is the United Nations specialized agency that promotes freedom of expression, press freedom, safety of journalists, and access to information which is a crucial component to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals including Goal 16.  The UNESCO handbook “Journalism, Fake News, and Disinformation” is already available in multiple languages and can be downloaded free here.

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