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

Finland (1st), Denmark (2nd), Estonia (3rd), Sweden (4th) and Ireland (5th) are at the top of the ranking of the Media Literacy Index 2021. These countries have the highest potential to withstand the negative impact of fake news and misinformation due to the quality of education, free media and high trust among people. As in previous years, Finland remains No1 among the 35 European countries included in the index.

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) belong to the 4th cluster of countries. These countries have low potential to deal with the effects of fake news and misinformation mainly due to underperformance on media freedom and education.

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.

These are the findings of a new edition of the Media Literacy Index for 2021 by the European Policies Initiative (EuPI) of the Open Society Institute – Sofia. 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 index cluster analysis shows certain geographic patterns as the best performing counties are located in clusters in Northwestern Europe and the worst performing countries are located in the Southeaster part of the continent. The changes in clusters when the indexes of 2021 and 2019 are compared seems to point to a deterioration in the situation as a number of countries backslided to lower-tier clusters.

This edition of the index comes at time of a double crises when the Covid-19 outbreak was made worse by the infodemic – the deluge of fake news and disinformation amid too much information 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.”

The report recommends education as the optimal approach to tackling fake news as a “vaccination” offering resistance against the worst cases of fake news and post-truth. Dealing with fake news and disinformation would dial down the temperature of political and social debates – and confrontations – would improve trust in societies and would contribute to a more healthy environment (figuratively and literally) in the Covid-19 pandemic.