JMSC Programme Extends News Literacy in Asia

How do you verify information on the web?  Has a picture on a website been photoshopped? Is a tweet reliable?

For the third straight year, the Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC) at The University of Hong Kong hosted a news literacy workshop this summer, in collaboration with the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. The programme is aimed at teaching members of the public how to judge the accuracy and authenticity of what they read and watch.

This year’s seven-day session attracted 14 educators from mainland China, Malaysia, Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam and South Korea.

While the course equipped participants with techniques to screen out problematic content on the Internet, its mission to educate doesn’t end here in Hong Kong.

“We are trying to create a networking hub for media educators in Asia,” said Assistant Professor Masato Kajimoto, who led the workshop.

“I hope that the participants can make use of the teaching methods and material we shared with them in order to develop their own curriculum in their own countries,” he said.

Burmese lecturer La Wun Shwe Wut Ye, for example, plans to launch a journalism course featuring news literacy skills at the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon this October.

She said her country has been plagued by fabricated news, especially on Facebook, ever since the government lifted its censorship of online content in 2012. Fake information has exacerbated existing religious conflicts and even led to bloodshed – on July 1 this year, a riot instigated by unsubstantiated rumors left a Muslim and a Buddhist dead.

“Food and water are basic needs, and so is security,” said La Wun. “News literacy touches the security part, whether we can live in safety or not in Myanmar.”

Fellows from mainland China, meanwhile, are interested in pushing news literacy education beyond the journalism classroom.

“In China, we are advocating for critical thinking,” said Holly Hong, head of the English Department at the Communications University of China.

“Maybe I can open an elective course to all the students out there in the university who are interested in this kind of news sense,” she said.

Anne Kruger, who co-instructed with Dr. Kajimoto, praised the participating fellows for localising what’s taught.

“I find one of the most rewarding aspects of these fellowships is when our participants start to select examples from their own country to share with us,” said Kruger.

“News literacy is a skill that can be applied to a diverse range of cultural, social and political situations,” she said.

The week-long programme was also part of the JMSC’s new initiative, the Asia Pacific Digital Citizens Project, led by Dr. Kajimoto. Under the project, he and his colleagues plan to engage more educators to promote news literacy across Asia. The project will refine the curriculum and extend it to local secondary schools in Hong Kong later this year.