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Media and information literacy; a crucial element for peace and tolerance in the face of online violent extremism in Pakistan

Islamabad, 17-18 September 2019: A two-day National Conference on Media and Information Literacy for Prevention of Violent Extremism was organized by the UNESCO Information for All Programme (IFAP) in collaboration with the IFAP National Committee of Pakistan and its civil society partner Media Matters for Democracy on 17 and 18 September 2019 in Islamabad, Pakistan.

During the opening, the guest of honour Mr Shafqat Mahmood, Minister for Federal Education, Professional Training and Heritage, stated that "the public education system must prepare Pakistani youth and children for effective and ethical engagement with digital media and new information technologies". The UNESCO Representative for Pakistan, Ms. Vibeke Jensen set the scope of the conference by explaining UNESCO's vision that media and information literacy is an important tool to promote peace building and counter online disinformation. She stressed the need for developing media and information literacy competencies, especially to equip young people with the skills to critically analyze the information disseminated by all types of media.

The conference was attended by government officials, civil society representatives, academia, and media professionals from across the country. Participants to the conference highlighted local efforts to prevent violent extremism, the nature of youth radicalisation, online misinformation, effects of violent extremism on gender and political polarisation in Pakistan and the way it is leading to extremist tendencies online and offline.. Furthermore, the two-day multi-stakeholder dialogue provided an opportunity to discuss the very composite concept of media and information literacy, which includes skills that enable citizens to express their information needs, seek access to credible information sources, critically evaluate media messages and produce ethical news and information themselves.

Speakers concluded that it is important to equip Pakistani citizens with media and information literacy skills in order to address online violent extremism and counter hate speech from society and suggested that development approaches to counter extremism are necessary alongside security-based interventions.

During the closing ceremony the UNESCO Representative for Pakistan, Ms. Vibeke Jensen reminded participants of the UN Secretary General's strategy and plan of action on hate speech, UNESCO's guidelines on Media and Information Literacy for policy makers and teachers, and the many valuable suggestions made by participants that form a good starting point for policies to address the issues related to online violent extremism. The Chair of the UNESCO IFAP National Committee of Pakistan Professor Dr. Akram Shaikh echoed these sentiments and concluded that the conference is a stepping stone for developing policies and launching initiatives related to media and information literacy in Pakistan.

About IFAP: The Information for All Programme (IFAP) was established in 2001 to provide a platform for international cooperation in the area of access to information and knowledge for the participation of all in the knowledge societies. IFAP is a unique UNESCO intergovernmental programme that focuses on ensuring that all people have access to information they can use to improve their lives. The IFAP Bureau consists of eight Member States nominated by the governing Council. It meets twice a year to appraise, select and approve projects as well as to hold thematic debates on issues of importance for the Programme.