Media literacy

Media Literacy – Everyone’s Favorite Solution to Regulatory Problems

Media literacy is often cited as the solution – but what problem? In this new blog post for the Media Policy Project, Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at LSE and Chair of the LSE’s Truth, Trust, and Technology Commission, provides an overview of current debates on media literacy at the LSE. following a recent Westminster Media Forum seminar on fakes. news she spoke to.

Call it what you want – media literacy, digital literacy, critical literacy, information literacy – educational alternatives to regulating the digital environment are being suggested from all sides. Yet oddly enough, this rarely translates into concrete policies or resources to increase public media literacy. It seems that the mere suggestion is enough to distract from what is politically undesirable or practically problematic. Media education, conveniently, is someone else’s responsibility and they (teachers, pedagogical experts, the Ministry of Education) are rarely present when it comes to “fake news”. platform regulation, journalistic standards or data exploitation.

At a recent Westminster Media Forum seminar titled ‘Next Steps in Tackling Fake News – Impact, Industry Response and Options for Policy’, I heard high hopes expressed for media literacy – for children, for the general public – the consensus being that, as Richard Sambrook has said then and before, it is “incredibly important”. I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder if we would be facing the problems of today if the media literacy case had been heard earlier.

But what exactly does the call for more media literacy mean?

“Media literacy… provides a framework for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating in messages in various forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media education provides an understanding of the role of the media in society as well as the essential investigative and self-expression skills needed by citizens of a democracy. (Media education center)

The more the media covers everything in society – work, education, information, civic participation, social relations and more – the more vital it is that people are informed and able to judge critically what is useful or misleading, how they are regulated. , when the media are trustworthy and what commercial or political interests are at stake. In short, media literacy is necessary not only to engage with the media but to engage with society through the media.

It will never be a quick fix

  • What media education includes is a moving target. As society becomes more and more dependent on the media, the media become more and more complex, rapidly changing, commercial and globalized. Thus, any media literacy strategy requires sustained attention, resources and commitment – to education, curriculum development, teacher training, research and evaluation.
  • We cannot teach everyone everything they need to know. Education never reached 100% of the population (think of the UK’s struggle for basic literacy for all). In addition, unless education is carefully targeted, it tends to to augment rather than reducing the knowledge gap between more and less privileged groups.
  • We cannot teach what is impossible to learn, and people cannot learn to read what is unreadable. One example is terms and conditions written in legal jargon. Should we really try to teach them or, rather, should they not be made interpretable, as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) promises? Likewise, we cannot teach people about data mastery without transparency, or what to trust without markers of authenticity and authoritative expertise. Thus, people’s media literacy depends on how their digital environment has been designed and regulated.

However, let us firmly integrate media education into the school curriculum.

Media education is expensive because it must be sustained for the years it takes to educate a child. It is also expensive, because to reach the adult population, a sustained and inclusive intervention is surely necessary. But before shrinking from these costs, it might be wise to calculate the cost – to individuals, to society – of do not promote media education, to have a population with insufficient critical knowledge to manage its needs in terms of security, confidentiality, civic and health information or consumer rights.

I started asking those who are supposed to be in favor of media literacy where exactly they think it is, and should be, in the school curriculum. Few are able to answer. Note that:

  • Media Studies is best positioned to offer the most comprehensive narrative, but it has long had unfairly bad press, it is not a compulsory school subject, and it is only taken by a handful of students (8% of GSCE entries in England, 2016).
  • The new computer science curriculum was seen by many as the ideal place to grasp the complexities of the emerging digital environment. But there is great skepticism about whether the English-language curriculum will perform, although things are improving in Wales.
  • Citizenship is taught and assessed as a foundational subject at Key Stages 3 and 4, with interesting resources provided by the combination of subjects. But it has been described as “a second grade subject embedded in an overloaded, assessment-oriented curriculum”, so what to expect here is unclear.
  • Finally, it is commonly said that media literacy is, at its core, critical thinking (demanding evidence, questioning sources, analyzing claims, considering issues for whom, etc.) and, therefore, should be taught. throughout the program, from history to science or English; but it is far from clear that this is happening, given the political emphasis on traditional “learning from the book”.

Media Literacy Policy – Now You See It, Now You Don’t See It

To my knowledge, media education is only mentioned in the regulations in two places:

  1. “It is up to OFCOM to take the measures and conclude the arrangements which it deems calculated […] provoke, or encourage others to provoke [Media literacy](Section 11, Obligation to Promote Media Literacy, Communications Act 2003)
  2. ‘No later than 19 December 2011, and every 3 years thereafter, the Commission shall submit to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee a report on the application of this Directive and, if necessary, make new proposals to adapt it to developments in the field of audiovisual media services, in particular in the light of recent technological developments, the competitiveness of the sector and the levels of media education in all Member States. (Article 33, Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010 – AVMS Directive)

In practice, both statements have proven to be as strong or as weak as policymakers and regulators wish:

  • Until 2010 Ofcom actively promoted media literacy in the UK and abroad with some vigor, with the financial and political support of the government in place. But when the coalition government came to power in 2010, both forms of support were summarily canceled and little progress has been made since, except in the specific areas of digital access and internet security.
  • UK support for media literacy in AVMSD has never been very visible, especially if it appears to bring regulatory burden. As far as I know, the UK government did not cry when, frustrating for media literacy advocates, the current revision of the AVMS Directive suddenly and inexplicably failed to mention media education. Nor, I believe, has she welcomed the struggle waged by the European Association of Viewers’ Interests for her reinstatement, as the European Parliament’s Committee on Education and Culture has now approved. In addition to updating Article 33 above, an important paragraph has been added:

“In order to enable citizens to access information, exercise informed choices, assess media contexts, use, critically assess and create media content responsibly, they have need advanced skills in media education. This would allow them to understand the nature of the content and services taking take advantage of the full range of possibilities offered by communication technologies, in order to be able to use the media efficiently and safely. Media literacy should not be limited to learning tools and technologies, but should aim to equip individuals with Critical mind skills required to exercise judgment, analyze complex realities, recognize the difference between opinion and fact, and resist all forms of hate speech. The development of media literacy for all citizens, whatever their age, should be encouraged. (New (8a))

For some, it will be inspiring in itself. For others, media literacy is just a good idea as the more literate the UK population, the less we will be inundated with #fakenews or #privacyfails or #onlinerisk stories leading to calls for more industry regulation. Either way, I urge those calling for media literacy to:

  1. Calling again on Ofcom to honor both the spirit and the letter of the law not only by doing research (however valuable it is), but also by promoting media literacy in the UK .
  2. Ensure that the revised AVMS Directive includes a provision for media literacy as above, and that we incorporate it into UK law after Brexit.
  3. Work so that media education is firmly anchored in the school curriculum as compulsory.

Will this be enough?

Media literacy is a long-term solution – it requires thoughtful instructional strategies and years of teaching, not a one-off campaign. Invest in teacher training, not branding. It should be assessed in terms of learning outcomes and not just measures of reach.

This country has long been a world leader in media education research and pedagogy. It is therefore ironic that it is often in the UK rather than the rest of the world that such expertise has, especially recently, fallen on deaf ears.

Perhaps the fury over ‘fake news’, along with other issues finally on the public agenda, will now provide the momentum needed to effect real change.

This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of the Media Policy Project or the London School of Economics.


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