Estonia – the digital frontrunner with a media literacy headache

Tiny Estonia has achieved a huge digital success attempting to e- and i- all governmental services. Does it also need a Bildkorrektur then?

The Estonia panel gathered students from all around the world to discuss on digitalization

The Estonia panel gathered students from all around the world to discuss about digitalization

What does the German word Bildkorrekturen mean? This was one of the very first questions raised by participants and answered by the organizers of the three-day conference that takes place between 17 and 19 November in Leipzig.

Bildkorrekturen basically means “correcting images”. The word Korrektur on itself is misleading though: besides its direct translation as “correction”, it also means “improvement”, “change for the better”. In this way the compound Bildkorrekturren has more of a positive connotation.

Indeed, when discussing topics such as digitalization and development most images we have in mind need to be corrected from “bad” to “good” or at least in such a way that they contribute to showing “another perspective”.

Do “good” images also need to be corrected?

An example of correcting a “good” image would be Estonia. The tiny post-Soviet Baltic country is one of the frontrunners when it comes to digitalization. Imagine a place where 95 percent of tax declarations are done electronically, i-voting, e-education, e-health, e-police, e-parking are all part of the citizens’ everyday lives. Estonia has it all.

In the beginning of the 1990s, the Estonian authorities set the aim of turning the country’s 1.3 million people into digital citizens. And it is in succeeding – research shows that people in Estonia prefer digital communication even when they are with their families in the same room.

Moreover, the government is seen as a service provider and the citizens as customers. According to Indrek Õnnik, project manager of e-Estonia, this is a good thing and people trust the Estonian government as the guardian of their data of which they, however, remain the owners.

A leader’s burden

In addition, the country often leads various indices when it comes to digitalization. The most recent digital development index published by the British banking and financial company Barclays, ranks Estonia on the first place – together with South Korea – in issues such as digital skills policy and digital skills in compulsory education.

Digitalization, however, costs money. Indrek Õnnik said that it costs the government some 50-60 million euro per year to maintain and innovate the services of e-Estonia. He also explained that it is difficult to calculate all the expanses as some of the money comes from the country’s budget, but the other part of the bill is paid through the structural funds of the European Union (EU). According to Õnnik, the maintenance costs are “not that much”.

Estonia is a member of the EU since 2004. Currently the minimum wage of the country with some 1.3 million inhabitants is around 400 euro per month.

Need for greater efforts

Surprisingly enough, Estonia, the home of successful start-ups such as Skype, seems to have a media literacy issue. According to Andra Siibak, media researcher at the University of Tartu, many studies show that Estonia’s digital citizens feel they lack the necessary digital competencies.

“Simply making use of the available e-services does not mean that the people are digitally advanced,” the researcher said. “Estonia lacks programs of media literacy as such. At the moment this work is done by enthusiasts,” he added. Siibak believes that this area should be much more emphasized and financially supported by the government.

Digital literacy is usually defined as the ability to not only use the available digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate and create information, but also to critically evaluate this information. Experts say that this skill is becoming one of the main skills, which people in the “digital today” should possess.

It seems the process of digitalization is unthinkable without an empowered society, which is well equipped with the newest technology, but is at the same time able to critically evaluate the information it gets through the modern devices it uses.



Mind the gap! Does digitalization build a bridge or divide?

Journalism conference Bildkorrekturen invites professionals from the field of media and development, as well as aspiring young journalists to discuss this year’s topic of „Digitalization and Development“.

Audience at the opening of Bildkorrekturen conference

Audience at the opening of Bildkorrekturen conference

Bildkorrekturen (correcting images) encourages the questioning of established patterns of thinking and interpretation in order to deconstruct existing images from the media. Hosted by development initiative service Engagement Global in cooperation with four journalism study programs in Germany, the conference is held in the city of Leipzig from November 17 to 19.

The participants were welcomed by Dr. Jürgen Reiche, director of the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum (forum for contemporary history) which serves as the main location of the conference. Reiche pointed out the historical significance of Leipzig as the place where the peaceful revolution took place in 1989, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany in the same year.

„What would have been different if the revolution back in 1989 had access to digital tools?,“ he wondered. Digitalization has changed the revolutions of today by simplifying communication and organisation, thus empowering people to engage. But on the other hand, cyber security and surveillance have become a great concern.

Digitalization plays a similarly dual role in development. While it has brought forth more growth and wealth in general, the persisting divide between social classes has received another dimension: a so-called digital gap that separates people with access to the Internet from those who do not.

Technology can always be used for the good AND the bad

Eric Chinje inspired the crowd to change their perspective

These challenges are well known to first keynote speaker Julia Manske who co-leads the project „Open Data & Privacy“ at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV), a Berlin-based think tank.

According to internet usage statistics, two-thirds of the world population are offline due to various reasons like the lack of infrastructure or the costs of broadband.

While Manske brought many positive examples of digitalization, she also showed concerns related to digitalization, for instance on how it will change the labor market.

But „the world demands change“, Eric Chinje, Chief Executive Officer of the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative (AMI) and second keynote speaker claimed.

Digitalization has changed the media ecosystem and accelerated the pace of development and innovation. Chinje welcomes this change: „We live in very interesting times. It’s passé to look at the world through the lens of yesterday.“

Break the walls down, don’t build them up

Journalism students blogging and tweeting live from the conference

Journalists blogging and tweeting live from the conference

The biased African narrative in Western media is one of the reasons for the creation of Bildkorrekturen, Prof. Markus Behmer, one of the founders of the conference, shared. For Behmer, coverage is too often focused on elites and negative issues like conflicts and corruption.

Since the first Bildkorrekturen conference in 2011, he and his colleagues were driven by one main question: How can journalists tell important stories in a way that reaches the interest of a mass audience?

Bildkorrekturen is not only about correcting and detecting „wrong“ or one-dimensional images. It is also a learning hub for the young journalists from the universities of Bonn, Bamberg, Munich and Leipzig who will not only participate, but also cover the conference.

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