‘Media literacy’ advocates push to create savvier consumers of news and information
When it comes to media information, people are becoming smarter than ever. Indeed, it is safe to say that people of all ages and backgrounds are better at making informed decisions about what is happening in the world and how to make sense of it. One of the leading groups championing this trend is The Media Literacy Project, which has grown out of an undergraduate course called Media Literacy: A Case for Reasoned Debate. The group was established in 2003 and has since expanded to an independent non-profit organisation, which sponsors research and education institutes in the field.
The Media Literacy Project has also become an international group with affiliates in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and South Africa. The team is particularly keen to promote education as a key component of public policy. One example is the Media, Information & Communication Studies programme at the University of Oxford, which it is currently running. The project’s website says that to “make an informed choice about the way we use media and information we need to develop better information skills.”
The group’s work has prompted the media’s own research division to consider what new skills are required to better inform and engage its audience and society. It has also led to calls for further research into the educational needs of all ages for media literacy.
A few years ago I was in conversation with the author and television presenter Martin Durkin about the future of news and information. We were talking about why we had such a deep divide in how people approach, and act, on complex issues such as climate change, which has become a political issue where the scientific evidence is contested and both sides of the argument are often given undue weight in public debate. In many ways the media provides a forum for the debate to take place.
Durkin argued that television is so powerful that to ignore the fact that the majority of viewers are not as in depth or as informed as those who are watching would be to deny that the industry is of great significance and importance. By the way, on that same programme he also said that when you watch the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph, you don’t read a single article in either of them. This has been repeated ever more stridently by other media organisations.