Media Literacy

Have you ever been to one of those workshops which begin with the words “I want you to tell us something about yourself that nobody else in the room would know” I‘m not going to have a grumpy old man moment about my views on this but I will confess to something that not a lot of people know; I used to be a school teacher. Many years ago, admittedly, but I was that teacher. I say this because one of the subjects that was taught way back then was Media Studies. I have deconstructed images, highlighted the sub text, framed the picture, explained a “tracking shot” created that sound effect and recorded the play. This was all about understanding mediation, that the media was not a window on life but a point of view with an underpinning set of values that we somehow felt young people needed to recognise and understand. 

What we didn’t have then was the internet. We witnessed the first micro computers and their development (we really believed that 640k would be enough for anyone), the  9600baud modem, e-mail (we couldn’t imagine what anyone would want to use it for either), networks (so you could share expensive peripherals like NLQ dot matrix printers and high capacity (sic 10 Mb) storage, colour, tcp/ip and then the mosaic browser and with it a sudden dawning of what it all could mean. By that time I had left teaching and the government of the day had declared that media literacy was no longer necessary as a subject. What was important was literacy, numeracy and science. Soon to be added to the list was IT. 

Now, it seems, we have come full circle, as is the way of things, and we have a Digital Participation Consortium under the auspices of Ofcom. 

AOL   Cabinet Office   DC10plus
BBC   Champion for Digital Inclusion (Race Online 2012 Team)   DCMS
Bebo   Change Agency   DCSF
Becta   Channel 4   Digital UK
BIS   Cisco   Digital Unite
British Library   CLG   Directgov
Broadband Stakeholder Group   Community Media Association   e-skills UK
BSkyB   Oxford Internet Institute   Get Safe Online
BT   Portland PR on behalf of Apple   Google
Tate   Post Office   Intel
Timebank   QCDA   ITV
UKCCIS   Research in Motion (BlackBerry)   LearnDirect
UK online centres   Scottish Government   Media Literacy in Scotland
Virgin Media   SkillSet   Media Literacy Task Force
Wales Media Literacy Network   Museums, Libraries and Archives Council   Media Trust/Community Channel
Welsh Assembly Government   Mobile Broadband Group   Microsoft
YouthNet   MySpace   NIACE
Northern Ireland Executive   Northern Ireland Media Literacy Network    

 The big difference between then and now is that then there was a definable media. Big organisations which had vast resources making content for the rest of society. They’re still there and the principles of mediation and the underlying values of large scale producers still apply. These are Charles Leadbeater’s large stones on a beach. What we have now are the small stones, the collaborative, hyperlocal publishers of content.

There has been a tendency to think of hyperlocal as a benign benefit to communities and as a way of broadcasting the community voice, giving it a platform and making it heard. I share that view. However, I would also like to share with you a recent experience that the need for media literacy has never been greater. I was having a light hearted conversation via Twitter with Lewis Shepherd in Washington about whole food and socialism along the lines of “What’s socialist about whole food?” when a re-tweet appeared in the stream: 

“3rd Red Scare? RT @penval @lewisshepherd Socialism apart – what’s not capitalist about whole food?” 

These things appear and disappear all of the time but given that I was thinking about the whole media literacy piece I took time out to investigate a little further. A check on the profile of the sender brought me to this:















While I usually ignore the automated stuff I was intrigued so I had a look at the web site and found myself here:

Digital Hisory Page

This site is allegedly fronted by the University of Huston. It doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2006 and, if the contact page is to be believed it has been subjected to some vigorous spam attacks. On the face of it this is a factual web site which provides information and worksheets for teachers about American History. Some of it is quite good, I learned things. When you start to dig it becomes somewhat more insidious. Certain groups in the US are labelled, specifically: Italians, Irish and Asians, they are migrants. Other groups are omitted, specifically indigenous Indian tribes. African Americans and the Civil War are a mere footnote in history. Jewish people are “non-Christians”. According to this web site indigenous Americans are white, middle class and Catholic.

 None of this is explicit, it’s all inferred and it’s all supported by “facts”. It’s quite amateurish and you would have to be rather crass not to see the issues that are raised here but it does serve to remind us that there is an element of internet media literacy that we didn’t have to deal with when the “media” was a clearly defined, easy to see, big stone.

The people and organisations who sit on the Ofcom Digital Participation group are as good a representational body as you are likely to get. I wish it well and have faith that they will consider the full impact of the hyperlocal revolution in all of its forms. This is not just about making us all more aware in  a digital world, it’s fundamental. Recently the European Union issued a communication on Media Literacy where it said:

 “Democracy depends on the active participation of citizens to the life of their community and media literacy would provide the skills they need to make sense of the daily flow of information disseminated through new communication technologies.”

COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION 20.8.2009 on media literacy in the digital environment for a more competitive audiovisual and content industry and an inclusive knowledge society

 This, for me, says it all and because this is a sentiment to which we all subscribe I think we should be mindful of the media literacy issues that will arise from our hyperlocal endeavours.


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