The 2021 Media Literacy Index: the Balkan countries at the bottom

The Balkan countries were seeded at the bottom of the 2021 Media Literacy Index ranking except for Slovenia, which is ranked 14th.

Such countries like Finland (1st), Denmark (2nd), Estonia (3rd), Sweden (4th) and Ireland (5th) are at the top of the ranking of the Media Literacy Index 2021. It means that they have the highest potential to hold out against the negative effect of fake news and misinformation. It is explained by the quality of education, free media and high trust among people. Finland keeps remaining No1 among the 35 European countries covered by the index. The Media Literacy Index was created in 2017 to measure the potential for resilience to ‘post-truth’, ‘fake-news’ and their consequence in a number of European countries and contribute to finding solutions. The index assesses the resilience potential to fake news in 35 European countries, using indicators for media freedom, education and trust in people. As the indicators have different importance, they are assigned different weight in the model. The media freedom indicators have the highest weight (Freedom House and Reporters without Borders) along with the education indicators (PISA) with reading literacy having the highest share among them. The e-participation indicator (UN) and trust in people (Eurostat) have smaller weight relative to the other indicators.

The countries in the bottom of the ranking are North Macedonia (35th), Bosnia and Herzegovina (34th) and Albania (33rd), Montenegro (32nd) Turkey (31st), Bulgaria (30th), Serbia (29th), Romania (28th) and Greece (27th). The potential of these countries to deal with the impact of fake news and misinformation is low. It is explained mainly by underperformance on media freedom and education is low, as reports.

Cyprus (26th) and Croatia (24th) are placed at the 3rd group of countries, while only Slovenia (14th) is in the 2nd cluster of countries in the Media Literacy Index.

The index cluster analysis indicates certain geographic patterns: the best performing counties are in clusters in Northwestern Europe and the worst performing countries are in the Southeaster part of the continent. The indexes of 2021 and 2019 show changes in clusters, namely, a deterioration in the situation as a number of countries backslided to lower-tier clusters.

This edition of the index is provided in the midst of double crises: the Covid-19 pandemic was made worse by the infodemic – the deluge of fake news and disinformation against the background of much news about the pandemic. Marin Lessenski, author of the report, said that “the infodemic created a trust crisis, eroding trust as in the medical and scientific knowledge and institutions, which have been the first responders in the health crisis, as well trust crisis of governance, necessary to lead and manage the response to an increasingly all-encompassing crisis – health, social and economic.”

It worth mentioning that around the world, the infodemic of misleading, unreliable and even malicious information regarding Covid-19 has hindered the efforts of scientists, health professionals and governments to communicate effectively about the virus, how it spreads and how to manage it, how to develop effective vaccine. The confusion around pandemic has created fertile ground for rumours, disinformation and conspiracy theories to spread, which ranged from the bizarre to the harmful.

The report highlights education as an effective tool to tackle fake news as a “vaccination” offering resistance against the worst cases of fake news and post-truth. Dealing with fake news and disinformation would improve and restore trust in societies in the Covid-19 pandemic.

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