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Empowerment through media literacy

Book Contribution - Book Chapter Conference Contribution

10 keywords introduction textMedia literacy as a matter of human rights, positive, integral approach, old and new media, all generations, multi-stakeholder's governance, continuous, never finished job for all

Media literacy as part of human rights: a shared, continuous responsibility
"Whatever we know about our society, or indeed about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media. This is true not only of our knowledge of society and history but also of our knowledge of nature. What we know about the stratosphere is the same as what Plato knows about Atlantis: we've heard tell of it. Or, as Horatio puts it: 'So have I heard, and do in part believe it'. On the other hand, we know so much about the mass media that we are not able to trust these sources." (N. Luhmann 2000).

Whether it is about the position of media in the life world of children, about the impact of advertising on our behavior as consumers, about the way we, as citizens, look upon industry, economic life, political, societal developments, ... the way we look at the world, we do it through the looking glass of the media. Our image of the world is the result of the images and information that the media present to us. The media do not only bring the world to us, through the media we interact increasingly with the world. Through media we make contact with others, we participate, consume, develop friendships, we present ourselves with a growing mix of media. We no longer live with media, we live in the media (Deuze 2012).
Living in the media is changing our everyday life fundamentally. "This new hyper-technological environment, this deepening of communicative globalization, has not only altered the way we perceive and use time and space, it has also changed the chemistry of our everyday life and our culture." (Pérez Tornero & Varis 2010: 13). Our life has become a "liquid life" (Bauman 2005). From Bauman's notion of the 'liquid modernity', Pérez Tornero and Tapio Varis have been developing on behalf of UNESCO the idea of media literacy as a prerequisite for a "new humanism", necessary for living this new life in a technological civilization and media culture (Pérez Tornero & Varis 2010).
"New humanism" is driven by the premise that all individuals should possess a media-related and humanistic awareness, in the sense that this awareness is a pre-condition "to situate the human person at the core of this media civilization";, "in the sense that this awareness must drive the primacy of the critical sense towards technology" and thus replace our trusting attitude towards technology and media; in the sense that "the new humanism must help to foster a sense of autonomy in a context in which global communication can engender dependence and very subtle forms of intellectual subjugation"; in the sense that "new humanism in the global communication society must prioritise a new sense of respect for multiplicity and cultural diversity"; and finally in the sense that this awareness allows us for renewing the "idea of the cosmopolitan, universal citizen, with very clear rights and responsibilities" (Pérez Tornero & Varis 2010: 24-6).
Promoting, stimulating and working on media literacy as an ongoing process for all is therefore one of the key challenges of the 21st century, as it is an "important prerequisite for an active citizenship in today's information society" (European Commission), "helping citizens, young and old, to develop resilience in work and life" (Council of Europe). Media literacy is as such an important means of self-expression, empowerment and even emancipation.
When reflecting on media literacy and how to educate both media producers and users, some important startingpoints should be leading principles in policy and actions.
First of all we cannot focus only, or mainly, on new media. The mix of media that we have at our disposal today shows that new media will never replace the old ones. Due to the growing complexity of the media mix and the ongoing technological (r-)evolutions, as citizens we will always need to adapt and develop new competences, even when dealing with old media. Working on media literacy has to be a continuous concern, not only for children and youngsters, but for all ages. Developing media literacy needs an integral, overall approach.
From this perspective it is secondly important to tackle media literacy from the widest possible scope: media literacy is about access, i-inclusion, for all generations, all people, higher and lower educated, with higher and lower socio-economic status. It is aimed at continuously developing a critical, autonomous and creative attitude towards all media of all citizens. Media literacy is thus culturally pluralistic and embedded in local socio-economic and cultural contexts (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000). Media literacy reflects at the same time multiple social practices of engaging in 'sense making processes' mediated by all media texts, such as printed media, blogs, video games, text messages, online social networks, FAQs, etc. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).
Thirdly, media literacy aims at the development of one's capacity of selection and information processing and critical thinking, his problem-solving capacity, her expressive, communicative and interactive capacities and finally civic participation and active citizenship (Pérez Tornero & Varis, 2010). As such three key dimensions of media literacy are outlined (Livingstone et al., 2005): access and functional media competences, critical understanding, and creative interaction and creation, all of which gives him possible active citizenship in the liquid modernity.
Fourthly, acknowledging that media literacy is an on-going, never-finished process, about new and old media, for all people, broad scoped and encompassing several dimensions, it becomes clear that working on media literacy is not only a challenge for media users, but also for (future) media producers, journalists and producers of other (fictional and non-fictional) media content. The development of media literacy of both users, producers, 'prosumers', 'prod-users' as an on-going process and outcome is realised through media education, the "didactic and pedagogical effort to develop certain media-related knowledge and skills" (Pérez Tornero & Varis, 2010).
Although the different dimensions of media education and literacy are interrelated and involve dynamic learning processes (Ferrari, 2012; Livingstone, 2004), especially the dimension of 'critical understanding' of both 'old media' such as newspapers or radio and television news, and 'new media' such as online content, is a vital competence, even prerequisite, with regards to the production and consumption of journalistic content.
Fifthly, as the divide between media users and consumers has been blurring in recent years, the changing roles and (power) positions of media producers, journalists, media users and prosumers should be in the heart when thinking about how to renew journalism through education. First of all, educational programs will be challenged to rethink educational targets. A critical attitude towards journalistic sources (in old terms, the basics of hermeneutics and historical criticism) should be the first and constant focus. Despite various teaching and learning tools, schools don't tend to be proactive enough in offering critical perspectives and participatory opportunities in relation to new media (Buckingham, 2007).
Sixthly, schooling is not the only primary setting. We must not forget that the development of media literacy is a continuous process that evolves in both formal and informal settings, whereby 'informal' refers to the engagement that occurs outside school settings. Media literacy instruction at school generally improves students' functional and critical skills (Hobbs & Frost, 2003). Yet, school appears to be secondary in this regard, as compared to youngsters' (both media users as future journalists) social practices in heterogenic contexts of daily life (Meneses & Momino, 2010).
Working on these perspectives on the one hand and developing innovative participatory methods and practices on the other, should be at the core of educational programs for future journalists. These educational goals need to be realised taking into account firstly that the school is not the only educator and secondly that informal settings are vital to the development of media literacy. Although academic studies underline the importance of the informal setting for the development of media literacy (e.g. Colardyn & Bjornavold, 2004; Drotner et al, 2008), educational programs tend not to link enough to these informal settings. So one of the challenges is to think about how to establish links that take advantage of and maximize the effects from family, peers and other actors outside the school context.
Seventh, in media education, whether educational programs for journalists or others, until today, it is very often assumed that teachers, as parents, are lagging behind their children on the Internet. Yet, research (e.g. EU Kids Online) shows that the idea that youngsters, the so-called 'diginatives' are supposed to know media better than their parents and teachers, is outdated. EU Kids Online research shows on the contrary that children and youngsters knowing more than their parents has been exaggerated. Talk of digital natives seems to obscure children's and youngsters' need for support in developing digital skills (Bauwens et al 2009).
Finally, we must recognize that the educational system on its own is not fully able nor solely responsible for the development of media literacy of journalists and media consumers. Media literacy has to be approached from a multi-stakeholders' perspective. Dealing with media literacy enforces a multi-dimensional approach, in which all relevant stakeholders share responsibilities. These include (cf. Livingstone et al. 2012):
-Government: that needs to provide convenient broadband access for all children (digital exclusion should not compound social exclusion), that supports initiatives that enhance effective access, broad-ranging use and literacy, that steers self-regulation initiatives from industry and supports other stakeholders' efforts, and is raising awareness especially towards the 'hard to reach';
- Industry: media corporations need to invest in education and training of future journalists, establish a deontological and ethic environment and preconditions, ....;
-media users themselves, young and old: they have to be taught about the importance of ethical codes of courtesy offline and online; next to this a wider recognition is needed for user's experiences, creativity, experimental behaviour, peer education;
-civil society: that needs to promote journalistic quality and insist on the necessity of a critical lens when examining public anxieties, media reporting, industry accountability or new technological developments, critical analysis of regulatory and technological developments).
-The Journalistic field and media industries: that need to promote journalistic standards such as quality, pluralism, integrity, ethics, deontology as prerequisites for developing an accessible, transparent and accountable journalistic field.
And finally:
-journalism education: that needs to ensure that future journalists engage in working on media literacy both for their audiences as for the journalistic field itself, that they develop an open and public-oriented attitude, that they are willing and able to interact with their audiences, that they are transparent about the core and processes of their journalistic work (historical criticism, hermeneutics, gatekeeping processes, framing, ... ), that they are willing and able to find multiple perspectives on an issue and that their work is focused on explaining and not reproducing complexity.
In conclusion, working on media literacy for both future and actual media producers, journalists and media users/prosumers, is a matter of human rights (linked to humanism, autonomy, emancipation and self-expression); encompasses the question how to deal and create new and old media; requires a positive, integral approach; addresses all generations, young and old; is realized through a multi-stakeholders governance perspective; and finally, is a continuous, never-finished job for all.

Bauman, Z. (2005) Liquid Life. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bauwens J., Lobe, B., Segers, K. & Tsaliki, L. (2009). A shared responsibility: similarities and differences in the factors that shape online risk assessment for children in Europe. Journal of Children and Media, 4(3), 316-330.
Buckingham, D. (2007). Digital culture, media education and the place of schooling. Grenzenlose Cyberwelt, 177-197.
Colardyn, D. & Bjornavold, J. (2004). Validation of formal, non-normal and informal learning: policy and practices in EU Member States. European Journal of Education, 39(1), 69-89.
Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge.
Deuze, M. (2012) Media Life. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Drotner, K., Jensen, H.S. & Schröder, K. (2008). Informal Learning and Digital Media. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar Publishing.
Hobbs, R. & Frost, R. (2003). Measuring the acquisition of media-literacy skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 38 (3), 330-355.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). Digital literacy and digital literacies: policy, pedagogy and research considerations for education. Digital Kompetanse, 1, 12-24.
Livingstone, S., van Couvering, E. & N. Thumim (2005). Adult media literacy. A review of the research literature. Ofcom: London.
Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A. & Olafsson, K. (2012). Final Report, EU Kids Online II, Deliverable 8.3 for the EC Safer Internet Programme, ISSN 2045-256X, Reprinted with minor corrections, February 2012.
Luhmann, N. (2000). The Reality of the Mass Media. Cambridge: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishers.
Meneses, J. & Mominó, J. M. (2010). Putting digital literacy in practice: how schools contribute to digital inclusion in the network society. The Information Society: An International Journal, 26 (3), 197-208.
Pérez Tornero, J. M. & Varis, T. (2010). Media Literacy and New Humanism. Moscow: UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education.
Book: World Journalism Education Congress 3
Number of pages: 4
Publication year:2013
Keywords:media literacy, new humanism
  • ORCID: /0000-0001-8273-8989/work/84664202