In Chapter 2 of Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication, “Media Literacy and Ethics,” we are introduced to the concept of media literacy and how to develop it in ourselves. Explain what media literacy is and discuss how media literate you yourself are. How many sources of news and information do you consult a day? Do you concern yourself with which companies own which television networks, film production companies, newspapers, recording labels, etc.? Do you think about the messages conveyed in advertising?
Media Literacy is a subject that is gaining relevance in the Information Age that we inhabit today. This is because a passive digestion of news content that is offered on a platter is unlikely to lead to a healthy understanding of that content. This is especially true in the highly privatized and commercialized environment of today, where much corporate and political propaganda gets passed on as objective news. Hence, there is no doubt as to the importance of Media Literacy to the general public. Yet, it is only a fraction of the population that could claim to possess a critical understanding of how different mediums of information operate. (Pavlik & McIntosh, 2011) The rest of this essay will foray into what all comprise Media Literacy and also analyze how media literate the author of this essay is.
Firstly, media literacy seeks to address the proliferation of new literacy practices
“in an increasingly mobile, global, digital world. Broadly analogous to print literacy, media literacy promotes the analysis (reading) and production (writing) of texts in a variety of forms. In practice, conflicting assumptions about the definitions, practices, and impact of media literacy are at the heart of contentious debates about its fundamental aims, purposes, and value. Consequently, as media literacy promotes greater access to a wider range of tools and texts, it is increasingly mired in age-old debates about the uses of literacy to frame, shape, and control public discourse. In the process, it touches on the relationships between media literacy, cultural narratives, and the arts.” (Tyner, 2009, p.3)
One of the key features of Media Literacy is the cultivation of strategies for a scientific analysis of media content. In this sense, Media literacy can be said to offer the citizens a range of critical approaches to gain insight into the nature of media content. Those studying the media should understand that it is merely the messenger of information without any inherent moral character. What ascertains the value is the list of attributes attached to it, including “who is producing the message, what the function is, and the target audience.” (Silverblatt, 2007, p.4)
Several academics in the field of Media Studies have defined Media Literacy in various different ways. Some claim that a comprehensive understanding of how news and program content is produced, including selection, edition and presentation are essential. In the case of news media, for example, without a complete understanding of these behind-the-scene processes, the audience/reader would not be in a position to critically evaluate the quality of journalism. Some of the criteria for measuring quality of journalism are objectivity, editorial neutrality, standard of presentation and detail. It is only a Media Literate person who would be able to evaluate how the medium he/she is using is performing on these counts. Such an evaluation will help him/her in deciding to continue with the medium or switch over to another medium or actively engage with its managers in order to improve its overall standards. (Pavlik & McIntosh, 2011)
It used to be the case when the term Media Literacy was used entirely in the context of print media. But ever since the invention of the Internet and other digital technologies the methods of information transmission have changed greatly. So, where Media Literacy previously meant the ability to “decode, understand and communicate in print”, its scope has now widened to include such abilities as to “decode, understand, evaluate and write through, and with, all forms of media; read, evaluate and create text, images and sounds, or any combination of these elements. In other words literate individuals must possess media literacy as well as print literacy, numeral literacy and technological literacy.” (Tallim, et.al, 2011)
Media Literacy does not stop with evaluating and comprehending media content from various angles. The most important aspect of Media Literacy is the empowering of the audience to make informed choices about their media consumption. Hence, managing one’s own ‘media diet’ by way of decreasing the time spent on watching TV, playing video games, movies and newspapers. This can be achieved by developing a critical faculty to analyze and question what is being presented, how it is being constructed and what has been omitted. This critical faculty is best developed through “inquiry-based classes or interactive group activities, as well as from creating and producing one’s own media messages.” (Tallim, et.al, 2011) And finally, the culmination of Media Literacy is the ability of the audience to probe into deeper social issues that are beneath the facade of the content. Here, such questions as
“Who produces the media we experience—and for what purpose? Who profits? Who loses? And who decides? are asked…This stage of social, political and economic analysis looks at how everyone in society makes meaning from our media experiences, and how the mass media drive our global consumer economy. This inquiry can sometimes set the stage for various media advocacy efforts to challenge or redress public policies or corporate practices.” (Tallim, et.al, 2011)