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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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Potter teen will not face charges

The decision has been made to drop the charges against the French lad who translated the Potter book and posted it onto the internet. Apparently the decision was made on the back of discussions with JK Rowling. Thank god sense has prevailed. Now just give the boy a high paying job!

Full story:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6943650.stm

MAKING IT WORK

UPDATE: Community Media South West have published a new report:

Making_It_Work_Front_Cover

MAKING IT WORK:
An Enquiry into how companies in the Community Media Sector recruit and
retain skilled freelancersPublished by – CMSW / Blueboard – Jan 2007

Research by Ella Bissett Johnson

Edited by Shawn Sobers, and Steve Gear

Synopsis

This report is a timely and original development in the analysis of social interest creative practice. It takes the debate much further than merely exploring the merits of such projects, and directly provides an analysis of the economic and skills base for this area of work – the area of community media activity within the creative industries.

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the creative industries are now one of the fastest growing sectors in the British economy, and socially aware creative practice is now gaining a stronger profile and being taken seriously by a wide range of cultural agencies. We feel this report provides an important step in recognising not only the economic realities of these community minded organisations via case studies of the companies themselves and the freelancers they employ, but also charts the average skills contained in this community media/arts field of work, and highlights its future sustainability.

This report has been designed to be not only illuminating, but also be useful. It will be of interest to stakeholders of community based media & arts activity, including project facilitators, managers, funders and policy makers, and also for areas such as careers advice and academic fields such as media studies and social policy. Hopefully this report will provide a platform from which to make informed decisions with confidence, from which the sub-sector of community based media education activity can strategically grow and flourish.

To order from Amazon click here.To download full report as a pdf file click here.

Research funded by ABI Associates, University of the West of England and South West Screen

Supported by Calling the Shots and Firstborn Creatives

Media Literacy and the Power of Institutions

10 days ago I went to the Houses of Parliament with my comrades Emma Agusita and Cathy Poole, for a seminar discussing Media Literacy, hosted Danny Alexander MP and the Associate Parliamentary Media Literacy Group. After introductions by Danny, Ian Hargreaves (Dir of Ofcom & Researcher at Cardiff Uni), and Peter Packer (Strategy Adviser to UK Film Council and UK Media Literacy Task Force), there followed presentations from young people involved in news production media projects with the BBC (School Report) and Channel 4 (Breaking the News).

monet

The Houses of Parliament, yesterday.

Both projects and presentations were impressive, and demonstrated to the audience the great things that can happen when professional practitioners work with young people, and visa versa.

BBC’s ‘School Report’ involved 11-14 year olds from 120 schools to produce video reports about stories from their local areas and issues that effect their worldviews. This project was linked with Hackney’s City Learning Centre and Vivi Lachs, (who I first came across in 2002 at a FutureLab conference at the Watershed in Bristol named ‘Contagious Creativity’. I was immediately inspired by her back then and was pleased to see her still on the front line of media literacy education). The children talked about the video reports they produced, which ranged from Muslim children discussing their responses to feeling ‘British’, a report on the ‘true picture of Hackney’ (in response to a C4 programme naming the area the worst place to live), and the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They also interviewed Tony Blair and had 2 days support time with BBC journalists. Helen Shreeve from BBC said their aim was for this experience to be had by EVERY 11-14 year old at least once in every school across the country.

Channel 4’s ‘Breaking the News’, as described by it’s co-ordinator Adam Gee, involved 14-16 year olds from schools and community organisations to attend C4 news briefings to get a true behind-the-scenes insight, and they came up with alternative ways of producing news stories. They also set up parallel news rooms in various schools and set up an online editor which allowed the young people to edit stories in their own way. One of the big impacts of this project was the way it made the C4 producers such as Martin Fewell, (deputy editor of Channel 4 News) think differently about their audiences, and take them out of the comfort zone of always reporting certain stories in a certain way. (Time will tell as to how this will change on screen.)

In the Q&A session with the young people, the most common responses to the question, “what impact have these projects had on you?” were;

1) Self-confidence
2) Wanting to be a journalist
3) Ability to have own voice heard

Both BBC and C4 are rolling out their projects to be taken up by schools and other groups across the country, or actually anywhere in the world as the resources are web based.

There is no doubt that these were fantastic projects, though watching the presentations I had a strange sense of de ja vu, as they (especially BBC’s School Report) was identical to our (Firstborn Creatives’) 2003 – present project Channel Zer0. (Or to see the website for Channel Zer0 in text only version rather than Flash, click here) What I saw in these presentations in Parliament was Channel Zer0 again, though on a much grander and gigantic scale. Please know that with these comments I’m not being a jealous playa hata as I’m applauding them on their achievements. It was slightly strange for me though as I saw before me how an institution such as the BBC could (seemingly) effortlessly mobilise in 4 months a project that we have been trying to really galvanise over 4 years. Same with the Channel 4 project which was also quite similar.

channel zer0

And here in lies the opportunity for a more sustainable future for both BBC’s and Channel 4’s projects, that I fear hasn’t really been grasped as yet.

Both are relying on teachers, youth workers, etc, to visit & download their online resources and replicate the projects year after year. The BBC talked about this years schools becoming mentors for the news schools. Whilst knowing the BBC I’m sure they could make this happen, but really teachers are far too busy and already swamped by initiatives for a huge number of them to take it upon themselves to deliver an online media literacy project.

Here BBC & C4 are missing the opportunity to commission community media companies across the country to take these initiatives forward in the subsequent years after this initial pilot. Helen Shreeve quite rightly said they wouldn’t be able to give the same access tob BBC journalists, etc as they did this year, but contracting smaller media companies to take this work forward would allow access to media expertise. Here it might sound like I’m touting for work for Firstborn Creatives, which I very well might be, but much bigger than that is the unique opportunity for the big institutions such as BBC & C4 work strategically with the smaller community media companies to deliver an annual project that would have national impact, and a model globally on what is achievable in the name of media literacy.

To be fair both Adam and Helen did suggest they could link with community video outfits, but the emphasis and resources definitely were steering in the direction of their online resources. For starters, they are A LOT cheaper than getting funding to commission a load of community media organisations. Finance is obviously a huge issue here. But so is the opportunity. I’ll work my hardest to at least getting it discussed at a deeper, logistical level.

Watch this space.