What is Media Literacy? Successful Programs Resources

Media Literacy

What is Media Literacy?

The most used definition of Media Literacy was arrived at by participants at the Aspen Media Literacy Leadership Institute in 1992. It states that media literacy is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms."

Others have added to this definition, increasing its detail and specificity. For instance, the Center for Media Literacy modified the statement for it's MediaLit Kit as follows:

"Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

Most of the definitions available share the same core as the AMLLI definition, so that one will be used as the basis for this website.

Eight Key Concepts

Although media literacy education is only just now beginning to spread in the United States, it has been a required part of the school curriculum in Canada for some time now. The Ontario Ministry of Education, as part of its guide to media literacy, has defined 8 media literacy key concepts. These concepts help to create the framework that is necessary for students to analyze and evaluate the media that surround them.

  1. All media are constructions. This is arguably the most important concept. The media do not simply reflect external reality. Rather, they present carefully crafted constructions that reflect many decisions and are the result of many determining factors. Media Literacy works towards deconstructing these constructions (i.e., to taking them apart to show how they are made).
  2. The media construct reality. The media are responsible for the majority of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of our view of reality is based on media messages that have been preconstructed and have attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in. Thus the media, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality.
  3. Audiences negotiate meaning in media. If the media provides us with much of the material upon which we build our picture of reality, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning according to individual factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or troubles of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background, moral standpoint, and so forth.
  4. Media messages have commercial implications. Media literacy aims to encourage awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how they impinge on content, technique, and distribution." Most media production is a business, and so must make a profit. Questions of ownership and control are central: a relatively small number of individuals control what we watch, read and hear in the media.
  5. Media messages contain ideological and value messages. All media products are advertising in some sense proclaiming values and ways of life. The mainstream media convey, explicitly or implicitly, ideological messages about such issues as the nature of the good life and the virtue of consumerism, the role of women, the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism.
  6. Media messages contain social and political implications. The media have great influence in politics and in forming social change. Television can greatly influence the election of a national leader on the basis of image. The media involve us in concerns such as civil rights issues, famines in Africa, and the AIDS epidemic. They give us an intimate sense of national issues and global concerns so that we have become McLuhan's Global Village.
  7. Form and content are closely related in media messages. As Marshall McLuhan noted, each medium has its own grammar and codifies reality in its own particular way. Different media will report the same event, but create different impressions and messages.
  8. Each medium has a unique aesthetic form. Just as we notice the pleasing rhythms of certain pieces of poetry or prose, so we ought to be able to enjoy the pleasing forms and effects of the different media.

From the Center for Media Literacy http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article210.html