The multiple faces of Media Literacy

I attended the informative “Your Media, Your Tools” dissemination event at Leicester’s De Montfort University run by the Community Media Association (CMA) last Friday. It included a presentation by Ofcom talking about their media literacy agenda, as well as radio and video groups from across the UK showcasing the results of their involvement in CMA’s media literacy project.

It has always struck me just how slippery the term ‘media literacy’ is, with a different emphasis depending on the agenda of the person talking about it. I used to get frustrated by what I saw as a watering down of the notion, wanting the literacy aspect to acknowledged as the critical pedagogy that resides in community media activity, and that was me wearing my personal agenda on my sleeve. I now feel however it would be more useful to slow my judgement and analyse each different face of media literacy in its own right, as each interpretation of the term contains pragmatic, theoretical and/or ideological meaning for each different type of user, so that is worth looking at without undue dismissal.

In future articles I will be exploring the idea of media literacy in the nine predominant guises that I have seen it discussed within the community media sector, media education events, published research and academia. As with all identities of phenomena there is some overlap different contexts, though they will be analysed from the perspective of emphasis, and therefore argue that the identities described here are valid. Notions described in the future will be:

–  Media Literacy as media savvy
–  Media Literacy as semiotics
–  Media Literacy as creative activism
–  Media Literacy as cross-curricula engagement
–  Media Literacy as IT support
–  Media Literacy as media sector training
–  Media Literacy as process
–  Media Literacy as informed media consumption and media use

Interestingly, given this fractious identity, the actual definition of media literacy itself is, with slight variations, mostly settled in a broad consensus without too much debate. It is the interpretation of the accepted definition which is the cause of the majority of debate. Even though there is not one single definition, in loose terms it is widely acknowledged as being about;

– the right to have access to media platforms & tools;
– the need for people to be empowered to understand the media and its ever changing nuances;
– the ability to create media communications if so desired.

Some example of this are;

Ofcom’s definition is; “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.” They acknowlegde they are mostly concerned with media literacy as applied to digital technology and that people should be able to use the equipment to get the most out of it. (Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as IT support).

According to The Media Literacy Task Force:
“If people are to participate fully at work or in their community, or communicate effectively with family, friends and colleagues globally, or consume media intelligently they need to be media savvy. They need to understand how media works and to feel comfortable questioning what they watch and read. They need a sense of who knows or owns what, and to what extent what you see is really what you get. And, very importantly, they need to become confident in using and exploiting the possibilities of new devices and media channels.”
(Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as informed media consumption and media use / Media Literacy as semiotics / Media Literacy as IT support)

The Center for Media Literacy‘s view is: the ability to communicate competently in all media forms as well as to access, understand, analyze, evaluate and participate with powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture. Indeed, we believe these skills of media literacy are essential for both children and adults as individuals and as citizens of a democratic society.
(Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as creative activism / Media Literacy as process)

At some point in the not-to-distant future I will expand on these ideas in a case by case basis in future blog articles, and also write this up as a full academic referenced paper.

Until then, thanks for popping by. Comments always welcome.



10 thoughts on “The multiple faces of Media Literacy

  1. Media literacy can only be achieved when it becomes simple and cheap enough for everyone to have access to the technology.

  2. Hello Cyberdoyle,

    Absolutely! We must’nt forget that important fact. That is why access is central to the definition of media literacy. It is also about not forcing people to have the technology if they don’t feel they want or need it, but enabling them to gain the knowledge to access whatever technology if they wanted it. For example, my parents don’t have a computer, and have never even used a computer, as they have never had the need, so they don’t know what gaps it would fill. They wouldn’t class themselves as being on the wrong side of the digital divide, because quite frankly, they don’t care about it.

    If I showed them how they can how they can use email to keep in touch with their relatives abroad then that would enable them to see how technology can enhance their quality of living. Though if after my demonstration they couldn’t afford their own computer, and I couldn’ afford to buy them one, then all I have done is teased them with a technology that is beyond their financial reach. So with promoting new technologies to communities, also comes a responsibility to facilitate free and open access to those communities, otherwise all one is doing is showing off the wares like a trade show.

    Community media is about facilitating access, and not just about workshipping the technology itself.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Totally agree Shaun. We find in our community that kids tend to pass on their old laptops to their parents, and we then upgrade them with cheap bits off ebay and give them free avg antivirus and show them how to use skype and such. We find they soon take to it and move on to all sorts of things, booking holidays, shopping online and digital photography. In our community everyone helps each other, and it has really built cohesion across generations. All of this is possible because we are white mice for a free wifi broadband connection provided by a local university. We are so lucky. It is just a shame there are so many around us who can’t get even a basic adsl connection, but they all come to our free village online centre where they can email and access the internet. We are all working to the same goal, access for all who want it.
    If you have a voice, use it to let govt know that the digitial divide is stopping many rural people doing what urban people can do.

  4. Ha ha. Thanks Cyberdoyle. No offence taken! lol I’ve worked with people for years and some still call me Sean!

    Sounds like you are doing great work there. All the best with your activities there, and know that you are not alone! 😉


  5. Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will definitely be subscribing to your blog.

  6. Hi Shawn – I think you should beware of being too mellow about media literacy and seeing it as a field in which a thousand flowers may bloom. Look at some of the broadcasters’ and software industry’s views of media literacy and you will see a consistent tendency to omit anything to do with critical analysis or broadening cultural choices. Web 2.0 rhetoric suggests that the technology is ushering in a new dawn where we can all be media literate, but it seems that search engines function to narrow choice rather than extending it. Media literacy needs to foster both scepticism and adventurousness, it seems to me (a difficult one to pull off, I grant you!).

  7. Hello Cary, thanks for your message. Yes I hear your concern, as the critical pedagogical analysis definitely needs to become centralised in the ‘media literacy’ idea and positioned strongly. I think I was trying to get to a position where I could (calmly) describe the ‘others’ opinions objectively in a kind of literature review way, whilst still standing true to my own position. Thanks for your prompt though as otherwise I could have become too accommodating to non-pedagogical positions, and it is clear my paper needs to include a critique of all the ‘blooming thousand flowers’ as to how they actually relate to Literacy, in the more critical personal-political sense of the term. Thanks. Shawn

  8. Pingback: Community Media as the constant entity in generational change in education, and elusive Clout and Capital. « Beyond Project: notes on media/education/society __ shawn sobers

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