Media literacy – an essential tool in the current epoch

Lovemore Ranga Mataire The Reader
In the current environment of hyper media saturation, media literacy and critical reading are indispensable tools needed in understanding the impact and operations of mass communication, mass media and culture.

Media literacy involves developing a critical or analytical understanding of how mass media operates including learning to read the underlying messages behind the media’s images. It entails the ability to access, analyse and utilise any information disseminated through various platforms. Critical reading refers the aptitude and discernment needed when reading information and not just consume any information on face value without cross-checking or verification with other sources.

According to the American non-profit National Association for Media Literacy Education, a person who is media literate is one who is able to access, analyse, evaluate and communicate information.

John Culkin, who is often referred to as the man who invented media literacy says: “the new mass media, film, radio, television are new languages, their grammar as yet known”. Culkin argues that media literacy is therefore essential as it seeks to give media consumers the ability to understand this new language.

In light of the fact that many people today largely depend on mediated knowledge for their daily decisions, media literacy becomes important in that one of its crucial roles is to enable an individual to sceptically examine the often conflicting media messages that are daily disseminated through various platforms.

Any reader of a newspapers or any view of television needs to have the knowledge of the pervasiveness of the influence of advertising on both adults and children.

In the case of the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that in 2011 children aged between two and 11 years viewed an average of 25 629 commercials a year or more than 10 700 minutes are spend on watching advertising material while adults watch an estimated 52 469 adverts on television. They are both exposed to contradictory messages about the obesity epidemic while at the same they are also fed with advertising of soda, candy and fast foods touting these as the in-thing or trendy.

Faced with such a bombardment of competing contradictory advertising or media messages, a media literate person is supposed to be able to separate real educative material from sheer commercial advertising and is able to evaluate claims made by whatever programme beamed on radio or television with a critical eye.

However, for a media literate person to be able to critically examine the efficacy and deceptive nature of the media he/she must also be able to understand and appreciate what mass communication and mass mea are and their impact on culture.

In general, mass communication refers to the dissemination of information or message targeted at a large audience through various forms of media with the ideal premise of entertaining, educating and informing.

Since mass communication has become a seamless part of people’s daily lives, media literacy and critical reading shapes one’s understanding in that it helps in developing a perceptive mind in comprehending social problems and in turn make informed decisions. It is through mass communication that latest trends in fashion, goods and services available on the market, weather updates or the current world news are beamed.

While a media literate person is aware that the mass communication process is handled by professionally trained personnel, he/she is also conscious that these professionals are not immune to social and political prejudice, ideological or editorial processes governing the institution that is broadcasting or disseminating the information.

The medium used by mass communicators to disseminate information is what is commonly referred to as the mass media and they are designed to reach a wider audience. Mass media are commonly considered to include radio, film, newspapers, magazines, books, video games as well as internet blogs, podcast and video sharing.

Ultimately, media messages are not innocent. They are intrinsically organised to gain profit and power. Media literacy and critical reading thus help individuals to sort through the debris, ferret out reliable sources and prune out the bias and bigotry.

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