EDUCOMMUNICATION: CITIZEN PARTICIPATION AND CREATIVITY

Invited by Fundación Kine, Cultural y Educativa and UNICEF Argentina, the educommunicator and audiovisual creator Jordi Torrent, currently in charge of the Media Literacy initiatives of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and Roberto Aparici, ex-president of the World Council for Media Education, at present Director of the “Comunicación y Educación en la Red” (Communication and Education in the Web) Masters program of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) with seat in Madrid, had several conversations on contemporary approaches to literacy and on education in relation to communication. First, Aparici and Torrent established a discussion agenda as a framework for the development of several topics. The exchange itself took place between August 8th and 22nd, 2009, through Skype phone calls, chat sessions, e-mail exchanges and conventional phone calls.


This text may be reproduced according to the parameters of Creative Commons Attribution- Non-Commercial-Non-Derivatives 3.0 License. 

ORIGINS OF EDUCOMMUNICATION AS A FIELD OF STUDY

J.T.: From a broad historical perspective, we could include the creation of magazines and publications written by students in schools and distributed to the student body and their families as a form of Media Literacy (ML). We could also include here the amateur radio movement and the cine-clubs of yore, like those in Spain in the 1960s, for instance. But it was with the normalization and spreading of television sets into the living and dining rooms of people in the industrialized societies that the need to include ML as an integral part of school education became evident. Between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, an educational movement self-defined as “Media Literacy” began in the English-speaking world. During the 1980s and 1990s it spread to the rest of the industrialized world. And now, in the first decade of the 21st century, the interest in ML is present around the planet. In 2007, the first ML conference was organized in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia); last year was the first organized in Sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria). Each month there appears a new ML initiative in some region of the world, such as the Gandhi Media Literacy Program (India) or the meeting organized this summer by the French-speaking African countries. Now it would seem as if ML has finally reached its moment of official recognition, as shown by the European recommendation by which, in 2011, all member countries will have to report to the European Commission the level of “media literacy” of their citizens. But, you know the historical trajectory of “Media Education” better than I do.

R.A.: Regarding the origins of educommunication, in the 1960s we observed that communicators, educators, philosophers and sociologists in different parts of the world started calling these studies “Introduction to mass communication media”, “critical reading of the media”, “active reception”, “educommunication” or “education on the topic of communication”. As early as 1973, the International Council of Cinema and Television (ICCT) gave the following definition: “By education on the topic of communication we understand the studying, teaching and learning of modern means of communication and expression that are considered as an integral part of a sphere of knowledge which is specific and autonomous both in theory and in pedagogical practice and different from those auxiliary means used for teaching and learning”; and six years later, a conference of experts organized by UNESCO declared that education on the topic of communication included “all the ways to study, learn and teach at all levels (…) and in all circumstances, the history, creation, utilization and evaluation of communication media as practical and technical arts, as well as the role that communication media play in society, their social repercussion, the consequences of mediatized communication, their participation, the modification they produce in the way to perceive, the role of the creative process and the access to communication media” (“La educación en materia de comunicación”, UNESCO, Paris, 1984)

Four years earlier, in 1980, the MacBride Report (“Many Voices, One World”) would become a determining document at the time of considering the study of communication and advocating for a “fairer and more efficient new world Information and Communication order” as the report points out.
Between 1967 and 1977, several books were published by Paulo Freire which were fundamental for today’s discussions on education and the “new literacies” from a critical and reflexive perspective: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1967), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Education and Change (1976), Extension or communication (1977).
I think we should investigate what this evolution has been like in different parts of the world, what paradigms they have used and to what point they are present right now. In addition, I think we should also look into these sources that gave origin to education on the topic of communication to understand this moment in which we are now, when a rebirth of educommunication is taking place.

J.T.: I think that the present interest of the whole planet in ML may be deceptive. On many occasions I don’t think it is clear what it is understood by ML. The Vatican, for instance, speaks of “ethical education with respect to the media”; in Finland they talk about “civic participation through the media”; in Saudi Arabia the concern is “the need to include ML in schools in order to protect the young from the harmful effects of the communication media.”



WHERE DID THIS MOVEMENT START?


R.A.: No one owns this movement, even though there are those who believe they do. The movement has developed with different shades in different parts of the world.  While there were some isolated occurrences between 1920 and 1950, some of the most outstanding experiences started in the 1950s.
In France, in the 1950s, Célestin Freinet proposed the creation of magazines or newspapers produced by students and lectures prepared and organized by students for their own classmates. In the 1970s, Antoine Vallet proposed the teaching of a total language, a precedent of what is now being called “new literacies”; in that same decade, Louis Porcher talked about “parallel school” and the “pedagogical uses of photography”.
Starting in 1979, the “Active Young TV Viewer” project was developed which aimed at starting children in the reading of television, offering them knowledge about the process of production, broadcasting and programming and teaching them how to remain autonomous from television.
In Spain, in the 1970s, SOAP (Orientation Service for Schoolchildren), a private experience, proposed the teaching of image and cinema as an activity parallel to that of traditional school, whose objectives were “1.- To develop schoolchildren’s critical ability; 2.- To empower their creative spirit; and 3.- Bring them closer to the anthropological and cultural values that the cinema projects as a means of expression.”
The Drac Magic in Catalonia was a teachers’ cooperative dedicated to the teaching of cinema in school centers.
In Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina, Francisco Gutierrez, a disciple of Antoine Vallet, developed a Latin American model of total language, and soon after that, his pedagogy of communication. Similarly, Mario Kaplún in Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile, launched his training for communication project.
In Argentina, Victor Iturralde developed an audiovisual formation activity for young people based on the premise that children can become spectators and film creators, and, between 1976 and 1979, created and directed the television program “Cineclub Infantil” (Children’s Film Club).
In the United States, different experiences on Visual Literacy were developed in New York in the 1960s.
In the United Kingdom, the activities of the British Film Institute applied to education became notable in the 1960s with the creation of “Screen Education”, a magazine modeled after “Screen”, a journal of theoretical articles about film aimed at teachers who teach communications media. Worth mentioning in the 1980s were the theories developed by Len Masterman, which may be considered foundational for a critical communication pedagogy. His book Teaching the Media constitutes a milestone in the English-speaking world, just as the work of Mario Kaplún or Daniel Prieto Castillo did within the Latin American context.
At the beginning, this movement appeared in each country independently, unrelated to what happened in other countries, acquiring specific characteristics and, in the Latin American case, different denominations that answered to different ideologies. That is to say that nobody is the owner of the origin of this movement, even though some institutions not only want to take ownership of the origins of this movement but also try to standardize models and methodologies globally and uniformly, as an example of universal group thinking that attempts to approach the study of the media hegemonically, through international organizations, intergovernmental agreements, associations, universities, and ministries. The lobbies in this field worked very well in the last century and continue to do so in this one.
It is time to listen to the different voices in this field who have different approaches and use other paradigms; however, I notice that, because of the system, the new voices visible are those that respond to the canons of the first world. I think it is indispensable to start listening not only to those who have been colonized by our institutions but also to those who have been able to survive and create new proposals to approach the study of educommunication.  
I believe that we have much to learn from these voiceless voices that lie in the periphery and usually get bad press because they do not respond to the official canons.


ONLY A QUESTION OF TERMS?

R.A.: Jordi, I think we should make a distinction between the terminology used in the English-speaking world and that used within the Latin American context.

J.T.: Here we could go on forever, contrasting opinions, theories and concepts around what “education” is. But I don’t think this is the right space for this exercise.  I will simply say that in the media conscious societies we have created it is no longer possible to think of an education that aims at a complete development of an individual without including educommunication. Some prefer to call it “education about the media”, “media education”, “audio-visual literacy”, “media literacy”, etc. Part of the confusion arises from the English term that has become most widespread, the so-called “media literacy”, a term that has been the source of controversy even within the English-speaking world.  Lately UNESCO has leaned towards identifying these pedagogical practices as “Media and Information Literacy”. Now in the US a new sector is developing strongly, “News Literacy”. In my opinion, it matters little how we name these pedagogies; what is important is what we do with them and where and how they are implemented.

R.A.: But is there a difference between Media Literacy and Media Education?

J.T.: Many, among them David Buckingham and Neil Andersen, believe that through the educational process generated by Media Education the individual becomes “media literate”. Others use both terms interchangeably, probably adding more confusion to the general disconcert.. Personally, I think that the general framework is “education”. Literacy is education. Formal education –in school– and informal education –in the street, in the temple, on the screen, at the social center, in the living room talking to Grandma, wherever. Education. Perhaps in our efforts to define, to explore cultural fields and create specializations, we lose sight of the horizon. I think that a radical transformation is needed of the school that we inherited from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a global social transformation whose results cannot be envisioned yet. Helping this transformation, to promote the ethical, socially just and liberalizing development of the individual is, in my opinion, the great challenge of contemporary educational systems. This vision will not be possible without including new pedagogical strategies in the curriculum. Personally, I think it is not important that we call it ME or ML. I know I am not very “scientific” in this; what I would like is to move forward.  You know the Latin American context well. What are the differences between the terms used there?

R.A.: This field of study has been called in different ways based on different conceptions, methodologies and ways of interpreting it, from “Critical reading of the media” to “Active Reception”, from “Audience Education” to “Education on or for Communication”.

The name “educommunication” implies a meeting of two field of study –education and communication– in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary way.

While Latin America was developing its own process to study this field of study, the theories of “Media Literacy” or “Media Education” coming from the English-speaking world were spreading through printed publications first, and then through electronic means. However, we have found that, in the English-speaking world, not one work specifically devoted to this field of study produced within the Latin American context has been translated. For example, the works of pioneers such as Mario Kaplún, Francisco Gutiérrez or Daniel Prieto Castillo about pedagogy of communication, total language or critical reception of the media are completely unknown. I believe that in the last few years a certain way to understand and study educommunication has been established through the industry of knowledge.

Before the globalization and standardization of concepts, no one knew what was happening in the Latin American context; after globalization, the English-speaking models were standardized and expanded and became the only way to approach this field of study. Together with the process of globalization of economies and technologies, I have observed a globalization of the approach to this topic, and that globalization takes place from north to south.

Media Literacy, or Media Education or “New literacies” is different from what we understand by educommunication. This last term implies a dialogic dimension which is linked to the way of understanding educommunicative processes. From my perspective, educommunication in the English-speaking world would be close to the activist movements in the field of communication and critical pedagogy.


EDUCOMMUNICATION AND GLOBALIZATION

J.T.: Are Educommunication and Media Literacy another expression of the economic and technological expansionism of the Western society, of the liberal, capitalist system, of globalization?

R.A.: Initially it was a reaction against the dominant communication models, the neoliberal system, the consumer society; then it was a non articulated movement for the study and analysis of enterprises, media and messages in a variety of technologies; later it incorporated the creation of messages in the communicative process (a practice that has been maintained until the present). The current phase incorporates all these approaches, also using cyberspace and the fact that the participants in this process may become a communication medium. In other words, it somehow marks the end of the division between emitters and receivers. All of us can in practice be emitters; we can all be a communication medium. This issue greatly affected the policies and strategies of the great media, who had to resort to the discourse created by cybernauts. Some videos uploaded on YouTube occasionally compete with television programs for the attention of the audience.

What started as a literacy movement to understand the reality constructed by the media and the way in which the media systematically perform a representation of reality, became an anecdotal fact in which young people make their own videos, upload them onto their blogs or on YouTube, but –essentially– there has been no transformation. There has been no attempt to get all those spirits who are thinking about and studying the media to join and articulate counter-information strategies or convey messages that do not reproduce the same models transmitted by the media.

J.T.: In the 1980s and 1990s Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and, to a lesser extent, France and Spain, exported their Media Literacy models to the rest of the world through their organizations, media educators and researchers. What were the consequences of that expansion? What is the situation that we are experiencing at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century?

R.A.: While we can trace the beginnings of this movement in the English-speaking world to the United States in the 1960s, its decline in its country of origin started with Ronald Reagan’s accession to power; Canada, influenced by educommunicators from the United Kingdom and Australia, became the model country regarding this topic in the 1980s and 1990s. The state of Ontario –and specifically the city of Toronto– became a referential place that made it possible for educators from the US to gain training and experience in this field.

In the case of Australia, it did not have a model to export beyond its own geographical region, but it acquired visibility because of the governmental concern in including the study of the media and communication in the educational system.

France’s model exerted influence within its area through Clemi, as did Spain’s through the Uned and the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona; its main area of influence was Latin America.
But in the case of the United Kingdom, the model that would influence many organizations at the time of introducing educommunication in their educational plans was exported through the British Film Institute (BFI).
This model, adopted by many institutions, became a standardized recipe that made it difficult for other regions of the world to approach the study of the media in ways other than the canon established by the BFI, and, of course, to a lesser extent, by the models exported by the countries cited above.
The canon of the BFI was based on six fundamental questions: Who communicates and why? What type of medium (or text) is it? How is it produced? How do we know what it means? Who receives it and what sense does it make of it? How does it present the topic it is dealing with?
These questions were based on Laswell’s functionalist principles and did not allow to study the media from other perspectives. A recipe was somehow offered, and recipes are not useful if we want to analyze complex structures, processes and organizations. Apparently, these questions considered all issues related to the study of the media and communication; they were the beginning and the end of his conception, of this method.

In the past few years we have observed that the same organizations, under the same names or under new ones, are attempting to repeat what was done 30 years ago. I believe we have to be aware of these Il Gattopardo-style maneuvers that are taking place in order to develop a true rebirth of educommunication; otherwise, little will change in substance and everything will repeat itself practically the same way, adapted to the present language and circumstances. It is not a matter of putting new makeup on what we did a long time ago. It is necessary to evaluate what we have done and how we have done it. In what political context, under what circumstances, which were the groups or institutions that resisted the development of educommunication?

At the same, it is necessary to ask ourselves What did we do so wrong during 30 years to reach this situation? Can we really change it now? Why don’t we use all of our power to denounce the socio-political structures that have impeded the development of this field of study? Why are we still ensconced in our comfortable seats, doing and saying more of the same, if we want change to happen, if we want to achieve a transformation in this process that involves not only the information and communication media but also the civil and public organizations and, of course, the citizenry as a whole?

J.T.: I have been following closely the European Commission’s support of Media Literacy. From the MEDIA program, trans-European projects are being launched with strong political-legislative ramifications. What is the situation like in Spain?

R.A.: I would say that educommunication in Spain is at a low point. The few existing experiences survive thanks to the tireless work of solitary educators and communicators, without any real institutional support, as well as the efforts of a few associations or NGOs that continue to support educommunication according to their limited means.

Except Catalonia and, to a lesser extent, Galicia and Asturias, we must say that the rest of the autonomous communities of the Spanish State tacitly deny the existence of this field of study and pedagogical systems.
Although there are groups of educommunicators working in Zaragoza, Huelva or Madrid, educommunication is not a part of the school curriculum. And this, in my opinion, is an imbalanced political decision of the Ministry of Education and Science, which has not included in the educational reform any specific competencies in the field of educommunication in the school curriculum.

Distinguished Spanish educommunicators delivered to the representatives of the MES reports and proposals agreed upon by different groups of specialists at state level to include educommunicative competencies in the new “Education Law”. Unfortunately, in the end there was no place for them. Some educommunication topics appear developed in isolation, but at present have very little visibility. Educommunication seems to have lost the importance it held in the Spanish educational system towards the end of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, a surprising fact since the opposite is happening in the rest of Europe, spurred by the European Commission. Spain is losing the leadership it enjoyed in the field; it is discouraging. In the United States, what is the situation of Media Literacy, of Educommunication, these days?

J.T.: During the past few years there has been a huge amount of talks in the US on Media Literacy Education (MLE); there are conferences, seminars, programs, etc. Even the Commissioners of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission, the federal government organization that regulates the media) have publicly expressed the need to include MLE in the country’s educational programs. At the same time, however, there isn’t one national program –and in most cases, not even a state or municipal program–in which MLE finds a space to develop. In addition, the national education plan, “No Child Left Behind”, in its drive to standardize national education based on compulsory written tests and standardized exams (from which MLE and similar concepts are unfortunately absent), adds an enormous administrative and professional pressure on public school educators, considerably limiting their pedagogical opportunities and strategies in which MLE might be included: srtudents must study for the exams, there is little time left for anything else. The emphasis is placed on “pragmatic” and “scientific” education at the expense of reducing the space formerly occupied by “humanistic” subjects (art, history, social sciences, literature), where MLE can find its place more easily. On the other hand, and from an optimistic perspective, we could also say that the enormous efforts of thousands of educators and researchers who have been bringing MLE to the discussion table during the last three decades so that it may be understood, accepted and implemented in public education may be about to have hopeful results. One concrete example: New York City’s Department of Education, which coordinates over a million students, is getting ready to include a space for MLE in its next municipal education plan.     

R.A.: I think that in the US it is a new practice because 5 or 10 years ago it was a marginal activity, localized around some people or institutions in California, Wisconsin, Portland, New York. What is the rebirth of the MLE movement due to? Until not very long ago people talked about ML, without the addition of “Education”. Why was this added?

J.T.: Adding “education” to “media literacy” is a strategy recently adopted by the most important American association regarding these topics, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE, formerly known as AMLA). As you know, the term ML is hard to understand for the non initiated; in NAMLE’s opinion, adding “education” helps those in charge of educational policies –from federal to local– to better understand that we are talking of new platforms, strategies and pedagogical models, of initiatives, programs and curricula in tune with the super mediatized society in which we live, even more so when the individual is under 20 years of age. On the other hand, we could say perhaps that this rebirth of MLE in the US is the fruit of the great labors that NAMLE and its associates have been carrying out during the past three long and solitary decades. Perhaps, more than a rebirth it is a recognition.


EDUCOMMUNICATION AND MARKETING

J.T.: If Media Literacy is sponsored by a media company or people linked to the media industry, what ML model is usually applied? What do the experiences developed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in different parts of the world tell us? In what ways do the consequences differ if those in charge are private firms, the state or citizens’ organizations?

R.A.: The companies that develop campaigns in this field are trying to give their public satisfaction. They may be linked to religious, economic and/or political principles. Most Media Literacy campaigns are preset by their own sponsors, and very rarely do we find independent plans or proposals that escape the clichés about these questions. Based on the agenda setting strategy (according to Wikipedia, agenda setting is “the capacity of mass media to grade the importance of the information to be broadcast, assigning it a priority order to obtain a greater audience, greater impact and a certain awareness of the news and deciding what topics to exclude from the agenda), the different organizations decide what topics to present and what topics to leave out, therefore making them invisible.

In a communicative space characterized by interaction, co-authorship and the organization of virtual communities it is very easy to show on the Internet the treats that are offered from different sectors of public, intergovernmental or private institutions. The problem with the media treats offered in these courses is that they are usually very attractive, especially in schools or universities, but they hardly ever effect any type of change or transformation.
The MacBride report, on the other hand, turned upside down everything understood up to that moment as social communication. I insist again that it is necessary to carry out some serious debate on the subject and not to offer some light versions that promote or state what is happening at some place or another. That is a covert Public Relations activity performed by representatives or officials of the institutions they represent. It is an invisible form of propaganda of an organization.

J.T.: Someone I consider a pioneer in this field and unfortunately is not mentioned often enough is George Gerbner. Starting in 1968, his analysis of American TV programming, whose observations and results led him to identify concepts such as the “Mean World Syndrome” and ethical-ideological “cultivation” through television programming, seem to me foundational pieces for ML. However, his name scarcely appears in the bibliographies of books specialized in ML and educommunication recently published. At the beginning of the 1990s Gerbner launched the Cultural Environment Movement, through which the media space imposed on all citizens (from advertising billboards to the rest of the media) was claimed as a space as public as the environment. The cultural environment movement advocated an activist-citizen pressure group as alert as that of the ecologist movement. These are complex topics but they do not seem to be in the agendas of many of the current educommunicators.


EDUCOMMUNICATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS

J.T.: - If we consider that education is a human right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), then, obviously, so is educommunication. In educommunication, access to information and the possibility of distributing it are even more relevant that in the culture based on the printed word. It isn’t more important, but it takes on more complex dimensions. That is, what good is the right to free expression if the information channels are not available to those who express themselves and to those who wish to receive the information? With the advent and distribution of the new electronic communication technologies and the development of the Web 2.0, this aspect took on more complex perspectives than the old right –in democratic societies– to publish a pamphlet and distribute it in the street. If we understand, like Freirre, that education (educommunication) is a vehicle for development by means of which the individual, the community, frees itself from ideologies that oppress and stultify the human race, the practice of educommunication may be understood by repressive systems as an experience that endangers the status quo –be it moral, political, economic, or other. All this becomes more complicated when the expression of this educational experience is intertwined with the production of information and its distribution through the media and structures supported by the same political and economic powers who feel shaken by the expression of an education that they themselves support in principle. This aspect would be inherent regarding Net Neutrality (the same Internet for all), as in Sweden’s Pirate Party, which has just won seats in the European Parliament with the simple program of safeguarding free access to and exchange of digital information (music, videos, etc.) through the Internet. Further inflating the current controversy over copyrights thickens. The right to participation (Article 27), to education (Article 26), to free expression (Article 19), take on new dimensions with the development of the Internet and the digital communication technologies. These topics are fundamental, and, depending on how they end up being legislated, one type of society or another will emerge: more open and community-oriented (wikis, open source, etc.), or closer and individual (the apparent freedom of many social networks in cyberspace) as well as more interested in the economic value of information.
 
R.A.: I think that the topic of linking educommunication to human rights becomes a priority within and educational and communicative context characterized by other technologies and forms of communication unthought-of 60 years ago. Educommunication is an area of knowledge that is linked to the freedom to know, understand and express oneself in multiple ways. Just as literacy was a priority of reading and writing, and still is in many regions of the planet, in the last few years the information and communication technologies have been defining new rights to which all sectors of the population must have access to.
Together with the topic of human rights related to educommunication, we must mention the need for a formation based on critical solidarity. In this sense, Robert Ferguson said that “Critical solidarity is a means by which we recognize the social dimensions of our thought. It is also a means through which we develop our analytical skills and relative autonomies.”
I share Ferguson’s view when he states that “the future of educommunication has to follow the path of critical solidarity or it will end up in one of many blind alleys.”  For the concept of critical solidarity to become feasible, Ferguson says, we need to work on the development of a relevant and realizable pedagogy.


WHO ARE EDUCOMMUNICATORS?

J.T.: In your opinion, what is an educommunicator?

R. A.: Being an educator or a communicator does not make you an educommunicator. This is a new educational profile with specific competencies in order to develop a pedagogy of communication. An educommunicator is not a professional who only knows the instruments of information and communication; his objective is to form neither technologists nor computer scientists. This practice is closer to training than to an act of interaction in communication learning. An educommunicator is a mediator in the interaction processes of communication.
I think that the current technological development has modified the old emitter-receiver or teacher-student communication paradigm. That model is based on a hierarchical structure that is still maintained and will be maintained for a long time to come, but whoever practices this paradigm will make evident his authoritarian character in his communicative relations. In the new technological context we are all potential communicators. The old concepts or structures of communication relations have been altered and it is necessary to redefine many theories of communication and learning that were created in the twentieth century.
There are very few institutions whose object is to form educommunicators or to form people for educommunication. This question has to be located in different dimensions:
1.as a governmental question,
2.as a question responding to the concerns of international or intergovernmental organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, or the United Nations through the Alliance of Civilizations,
3.as a question to be developed by associations and NGOs,
4.as a business question, and
5.as a question of citizenship.

All these dimensions may be connected to each other, but in general each of them has its own target, its own communication policies, its own notion of what it wants and can do. Let us remember that the MacBride report marks a turning point in the statement of a communicative proposal and that the consequences of that report were a hard blow for UNESCO. Therefore, I do not believe that many organizations today are making communicative, informative and technological practices visible worldwide and forming citizens in communication as a liberating practice as Freire understood it.

However, 30 years after the MacBride report, a new report of that nature is necessary: independent, autonomous, critical and ready to call things by their names.  I believe that until we do something like this in the field of educommunication, we shall continue working with models and paradigms of over two decades ago.


OLD AND NEW WAYS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT EDUCOMMUNICATION IS

R.A.: I think that the old and new ways to approach educommunication are living together right now. It isn’t a question of who uses new or old technologies; it is intimately linked to how to approach this field of studies. A religious institution will advocate certain methodologies related to the religious order to which it belongs or feels close to; a media institution will try to satisfy its future audience; and a state will establish limits so that no medium will be under suspicion as the study of the media is incorporated as a national priority.
Together with these questions linked to the ideology that provides the framework to educommunication, it must be considered whether the concept will be based on the technology, the contents, etc., or on a holistic analysis within the context of globalization in which we are living and the fact that, in some way, that globalization has been made possible by technological development.
Where do we place the teaching of educommunication characterized by media convergence, language integration, and the globalization of the economy, technologies and communication? How do we place the transition from analog to digital communication? Up to what an extent must we anticipate what digital teaching means? For the time being, most of the contents of the Web have been thought for analog media or have been digitalized; they have not been thought digitally even though they may be read in a digital medium. This interview taking place in two different countries –the US and Spain– has been developed as a conventional interview that can be read in any magazine. It does not respond to a specific Web narrative in hypertext or hypermedia format.

Although we have worked on it again and again and reviewed it several times, it is a linear, unidirectional interview that responds to all the canons of an opinion exchange model in which the public will only be able to read this text and, at best, send comments through e-mail if the organization that uploads it makes it possible.

The new forms of educommunication will have to take into consideration variables such as interactivity, non linear information structure, navigation of information, the role of the user as co-author or author of the productions, accessibility and usability.


KEY CONCEPTS IN EDUCOMMUNICATION

R.A.:
What are the key concepts for the teaching of Media Literacy at the beginning of the first decade of the twenty-first century?

J.T.: I would say that the key concept is still to develop critical thinking regarding the messages of the mass communication media, to make it clear that the view of the world that we internalize as true is to a great extent the result of the media messages that we absorb daily (from newspapers to the Internet, from billboards to videogames). MLE helps examine this view, dig up its cultural, economic, ideological and ethical roots, and take an emotional distance from it. An aspect that has been much more developed currently is that of the production of media messages as a fundamental part of MLE. The Web 2.0’s active participation has developed this aspect to extraordinary levels. This constitutes a magnificent opportunity and at the same time it requires widening the “traditional” field of MLE.

R.A.: Besides the development of critical thinking skills, I think it would be of help to review key concepts advanced by the Association for Media Literacy de Toronto at the end of the 1980s and analyze to what extent they are still in force and what are the key concepts that we must work on at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century. For this Canadian group, these key concepts were:

1.All the media are constructions
2.The media construct reality
3.Audiences negotiate meanings in their relations with the media
4.All the media have commercial or economic implications
5.All the media transmit values and ideology in their messages
6.The communication media have social and political implications
7.Form and content are closely related in the communication media
8.Each medium has a specific language and aesthetics

Some of these key concepts are still in force, but others have changed completely.

J.T.: In your opinion, which have changed radically?

R.A.: I think that those that have changed most are:
- The media do not only perform constructions and representations of reality but also interpret them. At this moment, the media go the full circle. There is very little margin to reinterpret the interpretation that the media make of themselves.
-Audiences are now made up of spectators that can also become communication media through their blogs, YouTube, etc.
-Technological convergence and language integration have created hybrid forms of production.

In addition, I think that it is necessary to introduce new concepts related to these new paradigms:
Concentration and globalization entail homogenization of information and control of audiences both in the conventional media and in cyberspace.
Audiences on the Web organize solidarily as intelligent communities.
The convergence of technologies and language integration involve new production, analysis and interpretation procedures.
The digital narrative is based on open accounts. There is a hybridization of genres and formats in which they superimpose each other.
The treatment of ethnicity and gender allows the massive self-representation and visibility of “the other” on the Web.
Social interaction becomes predominantly virtual.
Digital technologies favor those who have access to the media and exclude the rest.


EDUCOMMUNICATION AND THE DIGITAL WORLD

R.A.:
In addition, the digital context in which we are living is very primitive. If we compare it to the cinema we can say that we are at the beginning.
In its origins, television was radio with images, that is, talking busts. The invention of video opened up multiple possibilities for television language. Videogames have incorporated the techniques of audiovisual language and added others such as interactivity. In the case of the Web, we must say that we do not yet have a specific language of the medium. What happened to other media is happening to the Web: it is based on previous media languages but is still a disproportionately Gutembergian medium.

The digital context makes it possible to think of non linear structures, multiple screens, participation and interaction in the contents. In other words, besides specific issues of narrative, technological convergence and language integration, we must think of ethical dimensions regarding the forms of censorship that will take place and the surveillance and control systems that will be implemented in the face of critical or conflictive situations linked to educommunication...

The have been some interesting experiences that make us think of a different model of communication and citizen empowerment with the media. In Madrid, syndicates, citizens and teachers denounced RTVE, the public entity, for manipulative use of information during José María Aznar’s term in office. Protests were organized that were only broadcast by the private television chains in a clear effort to increase their audience, using these broadcasts to increase their rating. I think that during 2002 and 2003 the Spanish citizenry at large indirectly went through a process of education in communication and information techniques that had not been accomplished formally through schools and universities. This leads us to think of the need to train activists in the field of educommunication. The word activist sometimes sounds bad because it is associated to demonstrations or protest. Wikipedia states that “activism can stem from any number of political orientations and take a wide range of forms, from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism (such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing preferred businesses), rallies, street marches, strikes, both work stoppages and hunger strikes, or even guerrilla tactics.
Until now, educommunication has not used any approaches involving confrontation or conflict with the political, economic, or media powers as the environmental or anti-globalization movements have, which enjoy a very high level of visibility in spite of campaigns organized against them from the media, big business and the political powers.  I often think that we educommunicators are “tea-room activists”.

To what extent are we not “training” young people to be consumers of media texts? To what extent is educommunication not feeding those who are the object of study, analysis and criticism? When are we going to start learning from the teachings of Greenpeace or Amnesty International, to cite just two illustrious examples in the field of social activism?
 
J.T.: Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that educommunication has not confronted the political, economic or media powers. To a great extent, this depends on the educommunicator and his or her circumstance (school, class curriculum, exam preparation, etc.). Each individual develops educommunication in the classroom according to his possibilities and knowledge. Let us point out that there exist many examples around the world in which the young people are invited –through educommunication– to rethink the vision of the world they have accepted as good and the only possible one and the representation of themselves and of the other. These are small exercises with great repercussion, especially in the network society in which we live and the colophon of viral connections it creates by means of the youth social networks, even though behind them there lurk the real owners of these networks, with their sharp marketing claws. We have to start somewhere. It is not possible to put an end to the present communicative frameworks without using them to create new ones. Communicative systems are very complex, and from the viewpoint of ML we sometimes tend to simplify. Oral communication entails in itself thought structures and forms of social coexistence that were transformed by the arrival of writing. Walter Ong, a highly regarded thinker within the media ecology circles and little mentioned by media literacy, developed many concepts around social transformations linked to different types of communication. McLuhan includes some of his ideas in his own analysis of these topics. Being an educommunicator is a lot more complex than it looks at first sight.


EDUCOMMUNICATION, EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM AND SOCIETY

J.T.:
Why do you think it is important to include ML and educommunication in educational systems?

R.A.: If they are not included, we shall find ourselves, in 2020, in the midst of a society of digital illiterates, that is, people without the minimum competencies to get by in an environment characterized by bits and bytes instead of atoms.
Having a media-illiterate society may be of interest to certain governments and commercial businesses. If the citizenry is illiterate, it is a lot easier to develop marketing or persuasion strategies. To a certain extent we are already living this phenomenon of the end of citizenship in the height of consumerism and cyberconsumerism. The ways of teaching and learning of the twentieth century will continue being practiced in the twenty-first, just as the models inherited from the nineteenth century were still in practice in the century that followed. Faced with the conventional models, cybernauts know that there are other ways to learn and to be solidary in and for knowledge. In your opinion, what kind of society will be created if ML and educommunication are not integrated to the educational and socializing process of children and young people?

J.T.: It is important to repeat here that MLE, educommunication, are not pedagogical platforms aspiring to create cynicism in the individual when confronted with the messages of the media. This would be like saying that because we analyze and criticize a novel or a literary movement in class we are dismissing all literature. It is evident that there are many media of excellent quality (ethical, artistic, informative, etc.) around us, MLE helps recognize and appreciate them. Likewise, educommunication aims at a humanely enriching relationship with the media, underscoring at the same time the importance of developing a certain emotional distance before media messages. It is also fundamental to remember that teaching a child how to use a computer is not in itself MLE. It is an important aspect of MLE but I would say –especially thinking of areas of the world in which there is little access to the digital world– that it isn’t even the most important aspect of MLE. Developing critical thinking before media messages and making possible a certain emotional distance before the vision of the world proposed by the media are definitely fundamental aspects of MLE and educommunication. To answer your question more directly, I would say that in the world in which we live it is not possible to develop a true pluralistic and democratic system without active participation of the citizenry. This participation is based on the rational and emotional capacity of the individual of choosing among different political proposals. Today it is not possible to develop this critical capacity without having participated in an educommunicative process. Summarizing, in my opinion there cannot be a pluralist democratic system if the citizens of this society cannot distinguish between propaganda and information, if the citizens do not question the information received and compare it to other sources, other views of the world,  MLE is a capacity that contributes to the construction of a fairer, more representative, more plural world. However, many think that ML is a waste of time. What would you say to those that think that including this type of educational initiatives in schools is a distraction from what is really important: reading, writing and math?

R.A.: There are different points of view regarding this issue. One of them says that only the fundamental subjects should be taught:  language, mathematics, etc; another point of view advocates including educommunication as a form of “immunization” against the media; and a third promotes the inclusion of this type of initiatives to reflect upon, build, criticize and create in the language of the communicational context in which most children and young people are living.

While the children and young people belong to the digital generation, teachers are formed by the interpretation and construction of other paradigms characterized by ignorance of the new languages and media convergence, and, at the same time, do not know what to do with them.
 
Many try to develop a class by repeating the nineteenth- or twentieth-century models based on transmission of knowledge, but the new communicative-technological context demands another model, characterized, above all, by non-linearity and interactivity.


EDUCOMMUNICATION AND EDUCOMMUNICATIVE PRACTICES

R. A.:
Including or not including educommunication in the educational system reminds us a little of the birth of public school as we understood it until not very long ago.

The collapse of the financial system in 2008 meant the intervention of many states to save banking institutions; however, these same states would not be willing to effect an intervention of that nature in the field of education and communication, in which the future is at stake of a citizenry that must be prepared for uncertainty, complexity, chaos and a digital communication that he often uses without knowing its meaning.

I believe that educommunication is an issue that is incumbent upon all governments concerned with the future of their citizens. For over 30 years there has been a struggle for a public space for educommunication and little has been accomplished.  I think we are about to repeat the same cycle of spreading educommunication started in the 1980s, and the worst part of it all is that we are doing it with the same formulas, adapted or integrated to the standardized model of Neoliberal globalization. If we go over the strategies and public policies, we will see that we are doing more of the same. However, we are evidently promoting the development of educommunication both in educational systems and in the individual’s formation throughout the rest if his life.  In your opinion, at what age should educommunication start?

J.T.: In my opinion, MLE should be included from Kindergarten on. In the same way that we at this early age we start to make children aware of concepts such as “community”, “neighborhood”, and “hygiene”, we should also begin to raise their awareness before the barrage of media messages, the great majority of which are commercial, with which the children are bombarded. Let us remember that marketing companies “educate” children at a very early age. They spend billions on this. There are studies and research that indicate that by the time they are two years of age, children already categorically express their interest in buying a certain product when going to the supermarket with an adult. The school should not ignore this phenomenon as a clear indicator of the mediatization process affecting childhood.

R.A.: This is in general something that schools, governments and NGOs ignore. In your opinion, why is this the case?

J.T.: We are talking about an educational change within an unchanging structure. Not only does it not change but it also tends to become more reduced (more technical exams, less art, less thought). It is becoming reduced because young people exit high school barely knowing how to read and write. There is a crisis, we recognize this.  However, the official solutions proposed follow the old “spare the rod, spoil the child” axiom (“la letra con sangre entra”, in the original Spanish text). Other possible solutions consider the general dismantling of the school as we now know it. We are in the midst of a revolution and crisis, without leaders or banners if we understand that the “market” is not a leader but the expression of an economic system. This is a fundamental moment in human history; a better world is possible, but so is an oppressive, neo-feudal, social system.

R.A.: What do you suggest to approach an educommunicative process practically?

J.T.: I think that using those communication technologies that one has access to (computer, Internet, photo camera, pencil and paper, printer, mobile phone, video camera, etc.) to create media messages (from a poster to a flash animation) is a fundamental part of educommunication. The messages will be of all types, from purely artistic creations in which young people experiment with digital art forms, to documentaries in which the content is paramount, to scientific messages.
The distribution of the media messages produced is fundamental; otherwise, they would no longer be media messages. By distribution we understand everything from the simple exercise of hanging a poster in the school hallways to uploading a video on YouTube; from presenting an animation at the school auditorium, to presenting it at a festival or managing to have it broadcast on television (local, national, whatever). For distribution, young people will often need the help of the educator to identify youth video festivals (there are many of these around the world) as well as to organize a school screening attended by students of other classrooms, etc. Let us remember that it is by creating messages that we better understand how the messages that reach us have been produced (someone has chosen to show this, but not that; to include this interview but not that one; to trigger emotions through music, or not; etc.), in the same way that it is through writing that the young person better understands the effort behind each good article or book that reaches his hands (or each production on a screen).

R.A.: Jordi, these strategies are similar to those we used 20 years ago, only now they can upload the product on the Web. In many cases, I have observed that children and young people reproduce the stereotypes of the media. I don’t think that producing messages is enough. I know that it is a gratifying activity for all those who participate in this process, but I think that sometimes we are ”forming” them to reproduce the aesthetics, the contents and ideology that the conventional media transmit. I believe that we should aim at something else that we did not know how to do 10 or 20 years ago. Many of us educommunicators thought that placing young people in a position of message creators would be enough for them to discover the entire process, the mechanism of production, the economic or political interests behind a program, etc… Then they presented their work at festivals or at school or exchanged videos with other schools. But we did not teach them to unlearn the dominant codes in the media with which they are in contact most of the time, to “unlearned what is learned” about the aesthetics, the formats, the ideology, the forms of representation that all the communication media impose upon us daily and that the Web continues reproducing to a great extent. How do we teach to separate the constructions and representations of reality made by the media?

J.T.: Yes, the first thing that children and young people do when they have a camera in their hands is try to imitate the official and commercial media (Hollywood and its local variants, TV programs, etc.). It is frustrating, I know. But a lot of interesting things are coming out of this first-generation Internet –I have seen it in many youth festivals– as well as out of the movement called “participatory media”, understood as the production and distribution of media messages as instruments of social activism, transforming at the same time power and representation structures, creating links between marginal and “invisible” communities in the commercial media. These new communicative phenomena, made possible by the digital revolution, are creating other models, other aesthetic systems, new audiovisual languages. I am optimistic here; creativity will surprise us.

(Translated by Graciela Smith from the Spanish).