Media literacy leads us down the path of partisanship • Troy Media
The expression that beauty, or art, is in the eye of the beholder means that it is the beholder who decides. The same goes for the viewer of the news.
Put simply, new research shows us, once again, that news consumers see what they want to see. The latest research data comes from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Before this current war, there was also violence, conflict and university studies. There were also ideological divisions, with part of the “Russian-speaking” Ukrainian population hoping to rebuild relations with Russia while rejecting the legitimacy of its own government.
Research by Joanna Szostek of Royal Holloway, University of London also shows that “rational individuals deliberately decide what to watch or read based on their personal needs, interests or predispositions”. Many want their own opinions reinforced. Other important factors in news consumption are time available, convenience, and “social or home environment”.
To me, all of this means that if you watch the news in a union hall, a college common room, a fundamentalist church basement, or a gun club, you’re going to get other strong influences besides the news itself- same. When the media and content agree with the opinions of a particular audience, the news is considered credible. The news is incredible if there is disagreement – cognitive dissonance.
There are other divisions. Ordinary people have ‘everyday’ ways of describing their experiences in conflict zones, which are often very different from the descriptions used by elites. Think of how the wars from Vietnam to the Gulf to Afghanistan were portrayed on American television networks in relation to the experiences of civilians in the midst of these conflicts.
And how demanding are news consumers? Not very. Szostek’s research revealed that many consumers prefer news on the channel showing their favorite soap opera or a movie. News media consumption can be the result of “one-time decisions made years ago – like choosing an internet browser, homepage…” or bookmarking a website. Up to half of news consumers can simply browse spontaneously and don’t really care about the news source. Many more get angry at the cover and disengage.
What do we see as the solution to a polarized electorate and strident, partisan media? I hear the phrase “do your research” – mostly from people who haven’t done much research. This may not be a solution, however.
In this study, the Russian-leaning group “accessed sources linked to the Russian state that are associated with deliberately misleading reporting.” Thus, the advice to engage in “cross-checking” advocated by those who promote media literacy does not necessarily lead to media literacy.
As a potentially civil society, we have much more to do than defend media literacy, research and education. In fact, it may be these very things that have put us in our state of polarization and anger.
Allan Bonner was the first North American to earn a master’s degree in risk, crisis and disaster management. He was trained in England and worked in the field on five continents for 35 years. His latest book is Emergency! – a monograph with 13 other authors on the many crises that occurred during the pandemic.
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