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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.

Shawn

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Will the real Renaissance please stand up?

 

Culture Secretary James Purnell says in today’s Guardian (5 Jan 08);

“Community arts in many ways can be excellent in a different way from, say, the National Theatre. But what I wouldn’t say is, ‘We’ll tolerate average work because it happens to be in a particular location.”

In another part of the article the MP says, “If any part of our cultural sector is substandard, it’s not worth subsidising. Garbage in, garbage out.”

The article, by John Harris continues;

“He (Purnell) talks about ‘engagement with communities’ and the need ‘to spread the best culture around the whole country’. The (Sir Brian) McMaster review outlines the need for some big institutions – the Royal Ballet springs to mind -to get out more; the new idea, Purnell says, is ‘touring in a strategic way”.

The McMaster policy review’s official title is Supporting Excellence in the Arts and will be published by the government next week. Purnell is an enthusiastic advocate of the review telling the Guardian, “When Brian talks about the potential for a New Renaissance, I don’t think that is an overstatement. It’s exactly true.”

The idea of a renaissance in the arts is an in interesting one, but also problematic in the terms of how Purnell describes it. To dictate from the top-down the approach that the renaissance will take goes against the very nature of reactionary rebelliousness that lay at the heart of 15th Century Italian forerunner that Purnell and McMaster are prophesising. The heretic notions such as; the fact that the earth travels around the sun; the ‘right’ to publish and own personal Bibles translated into native languages other than Latin; and the realisation that the monarchy and clergy were not divine and citizens were equals with rights in society, were aspects of the anti-establishment feelings of the time that gave rise to the renaissance period. The leaders of the day were quick to captalise on the turning tides and cleverly appropriated renaissance ideas to suit their own ends in the tense relationships between church, state and nations, but the fact remains that the reformation spirit of the times were underground and punishable by death for treason and heresy.

Radical alternative media was at the centre of this spark for new thinking. As James Curran describes in ‘Communication, power and social order’ in Culture, Society and the Media (1988 – page 218);

“In a more general sense, the rise of the manuscript and subsequently of the printed book also fostered the development of an alternative culture. Although the bulk of scribal and early print output was in Latin and religious in content, the production and dissemination of vernacular texts helped to foster a parallel secular culture based on national languages and dialects, drawing upon indigenous cultural traditions.”

So, what is the refomation thinking in the UK today that this new Purnell/McMaster renaissance will follow? Well I would say that it will only come within a hair’s breadth of being a renaissance if it is led by the citizens not the leaders, and certainly broader than National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. It is all well and good for the financial gate-keepers of culture like James Purnell to say that ‘average’ and ‘substandard’ work will not be tolerated, as they want value for money. And I would also argue that cultural creative endevevours should be of a high standard to marry content with style, but as Purnell describes it is to see a renaissance as a glorified cultural tour, brining quality works to the people. As noble as that may, be, that is no renaissance, that is still a form of cultural imperialism.

A true renaissance cannot and will not be brokered by leaders or gatekeepers. It will be in places anarchic and in other places passivley (and maybe ignorantly) building on the shoulders
of those anarchic pioneers. At present the early (and I mean early!) signs of any new renaissance is in Web 2.0, in illigal counter-cultural activities such as graffiti, and also (of course) in the activities of the home bedroom music makers, film makers and other DIY producers of modern culural artefacts. Community & Independent media producers are the Galilleos and Martin Luthers to Mass Media’s Papacy, Emperors, and, ahem, Murdochs. But the 15th Century renaissance didn’t effect and influence the arts. It changed governments, influenced religions and shaped the cultural and moral values in the Western worlds. As idealist as we may be today, we still have a long way to go.

Are we actually in the midst of a new renaissance? It would be great if we were, but alas I guess I will never know as that surely is not the within the grasp of any of is to really know. We will be long gone and in a few centuries time it will be left to the historians of the day to define our ra for us. We are too close to recognise a renaissance if it came and gave us a lapdance! It’s also probably arrogant of us to even try define our endevevours in terms of refomations, renaissances, etc, but when people are passionate about what they do, what they believe in and the connection between the two, then, with feet firmly on the ground (like Galillio), it is good to think big.

I agree with James Purnell when he says, “Why shouldn’t we be that ambitious?”

Yes, as long as we are not attempting to shape others’ ambitions for them.

© Shawn Sobers 2007

Mainstream media underestimates African-British resistance

It seems the mainstream media completely underestimated the impact and importance of Toyin Agbetu’s actions on 27th March 2007 when he confroted The Queen and Tony Blair at Westminster Abbey. None of them were there to document the events of him answering bail. The only media there were a few of us with cameras. TRUE COMMUNITY MEDIA in ACTION. Mainstream media were unable to twist this spontaneous event with mis-representation. Hundreds of Black/African people were out in force, and IT WAS PEACEFUL!!! That’s not sexy telly news. But it is the truth. How ironic….

If this video doesn’t work (it has been playing up!!) then click this link to take you to Google video direct. http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-2393402568525944108&hl=en-GB

With a few exceptions, Toyin’s protest in Westminster Abbey has largely been reported as the actions of a lone mad man, but THIS VIDEO shows the support that he has amongst fellow Africanists. Toyin is greeted as a hero by a growing crowd. The nature of the support takes the police by surprise who make an eventual and futile attempt to put down crowd control barriers.

Agbetu shares his views with his supporters before heading into the police station. A number of voices are heard from the supporters before Toyin returns to update them on the charges, or lack of them.

A month after his action on 27th March, it seems the BBC has still not sent the un-televised footage to the police. This would help the Met and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to determine his exact ‘crime’ and make charges. Unable to do this the law enforcers have to send him away until 30th May 2007, 1pm. Charing Cross.

On the steps of the police station Toyin responds to a now sizeable crowd that believes he has no case to answer. Agbetu comments on the games being played by the CPS with the arrest and charging situation, and then on the bigger picture involving pressure on African, and in particular Jamaican, young people in Britain. He urges his supporters to support their young people by instituting rites-of-passage as a necessary part of their growing up and self-discovery.
DOCUMENTED BY FIRSTBORN CREATIVES FOR CHANNEL ZERO

(Text written by Rob Mitchell)

MEDIA IN THE HANDS OF EVERYDAY PEOPLE!!!!

I don’t really need to say anything, do I? 2006.

Remember this? 1991.