Do we need Media Education to achieve Media Literacy? – No, not necessarily, but it may help a lot!

Professor of Communications at the University of Algarve and Head of Research in Film Studies at the CIAC Research Center for the Arts and Communication.

It might be argued that we can all become media literate just by being exposed to the media, without any formal media education, since some would suggest that all exposure to the media acts a sort of media pedagogy of which we are simply not aware. However, some more specific media education processes may really become important in order to achieve a higher order of media literacy, both for media readers and media makers.

It was with this in mind that a group of independent scholars and experts from different European countries and institutions1 gathered together to join their efforts around the construction of one of the first attempts to produce some kind of a Media Literacy Manifesto – The European Charter for Media Literacy, which was a declaration of commitment to:

“Raise public understanding and awareness of Media Literacy, in relation to the media of communication, information and expression; Advocate the importance of Media Literacy in the development of educational, cultural, political, social and economic policy; Support the principle that every European citizen of any age should have opportunities, in both formal and informal education, to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to increase their enjoyment, understanding and exploration of the media.”2 And the nature of this initiative and its commitments were made even clearer by the aims of the Charter, which were agreed only after much debate, since almost every member of the initial steering group had his or her own idea of the priorities for the Charter:

“To foster greater clarity and wider consensus in Europe on Media Literacy and Media Education; 1 This group was formed by: Cary Bazalgette – British Film Institute, U.K.; Patrick Verniers – Conseil de l’Education aux Médias, Belgium; Evelyne Bevort – Centre de Liaison de l’Enseignement et les Médias d’Information, France ; Vítor Reia-Baptista – University of Algarve, Portugal; Susanne Krucsay – Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, Austria; Ben Bachmair – University of Kassel, Germany; Klas Viklund – Swedish Film Institute, Sweden.2 In European Charter for Media Literacy (2005): .

To raise the public profile of Media Literacy and Media Education in each European nation, and in Europe as a whole; To encourage the development of a permanent and voluntary network of Media Educators in Europe, bound together by their common aims, and enabled by their institutional commitment.”3 Although we don’t see the role of media makers explicitly mentioned in the text of the Charter, it was already my view that they should be one of the most important target groups for media education initiatives, but I realised that they would also be one of the most reluctant groups to realise the importance of media literacy. Media makers, especially journalists, usually don’t like to get involved with pedagogy, in fact they run like hell from it since they fear that it makes them sound as if they are «not neutral» and «subjective », or even «propagandists». Of course nobody is «absolutely» neutral orobjective in any context, particularly those who make our media.

Our view was that we would have to develop formal and informal media education strategies for school environments, for home environments and, necessarily, for professional media environments. Since we know that the media industries are usually almost completely closed to such pedagogical approaches, this meant that we would have to concentrate our efforts on the environments of academic media training, that is, universities and other media training centers.

In this perspective, besides journalism, the other fields of major importance to be concerned with media education and media literacy are film, videogames, music, advertising and, because all the media tend to converge towards it, the internet. Some of these aspects I had already raised in earlier contexts, in an attempt to develop some reflection and discussion about their nature:

“The Internet is actually the largest database for information support in the daily life of individuals and also of institutions and services. Among those we can count students and teachers, but also media and opinion makers, as well as information providers including journalists. When it is essentially used as a path for communication channels for electronic messages, the web contains much useful information, presented by individuals, institutions, governments, associations and all types of commercial and non commercial organizations. But who are the gate-keepers of that electronic flow?

Who makes up the major elements of the global agenda? How and where are the most powerful editorial lines shaped? Beyond the boundless and instantaneous allocation of data, the Internet developed new ways for cultural, economic and social life. This 3 Ibidem: development is related to communication instruments and access to the communication and information industries. It is apparent in politics, education, commerce, and in many other fields of public and private character. All these areas contribute to the rapid change of our traditional paradigms of public sphere and space and we don’t know yet if our position as individual and social actors in the above is changing as quickly and maybe we are not yet completely aware of the implications of such changes. The potential threat of widespread alienation in such new environments of media exposure should not be dismissed lightly.”4

Film is probably the most eclectic, syncretic and sometimes chaotic of all media, which means that we often need some film literacy to make coherent sense of all its elements. It has an incredible power of attraction which is replicated in all other media through the usage of film languages in any kind of media contexts: music videos to promote music; real footage to enhance videogames; film genres and film stars in marketing; film excerpts of all kinds in «YouTube», «Facebook», «Myspace» and millions of other websites. Film, in its many different forms, became the most common vehicle of those New Environments of Media Exposure , thus, becoming also one of the most important instruments for a Multidimensional and Multicultural Media Literacy among the many different media users, consumers, producers and «prosumers» of all ages, social and cultural levels, although different levels of media literacy, their nature or even their lack can show differences or similarities, according to the local and global contexts where they are developed and practiced:

“… appropriations and usage patterns of these media technologies are in many ways rather specific, so one of the main risks, in a media literacy context, is the danger of generalisation about common patterns of appropriation. However, one general feature in our attitudes towards these media cultural effects has been taking them as they were often ambivalent: television is still seen both as educational and as a drug; mobile phones are perceived both as a nuisance and as a life-saver; computer games are viewed both as learning tools and as addictive timewasters and film has been looked at since the very beginnings of the 7th art as a medium of great educational power as well as a medium with an enormous range of escapist dimensions.”5

The urgency to approach film, its languages and appropriations as a main vehicle of media literacy has also to do with the enormous importance of this medium in the construction of our collective memories. The richness and diversity of the film languages, techniques and technologies of film are seen as instruments of great importance, from the primitive films of Lumière and Mélies to the most sophisticated virtual inserts in YouTube. Their role as vehicles of artistic and documentary 4 In Reia-Baptista, 2006, pp 123-134. 5 Idem, 2008, pp 155-165. narratology and as factors of authentic film literacy, acquires an absolutely unquestionable importance in any society that calls itself a knowledge and information society as constructive contributions to our collective and cultural memories.6

To have this in mind, as part of a «new manifesto», is of great importance, specially within the new European context of media policies that are expected to be developed within the new MEDIA program and its possible new media and film literacy approaches. Or as Cary Bazalgette writes in her Analogue Sunset

“… film education – and indeed media education in general– should be an entitlement for every learner, not something offered only to a minority…”7

Let us expect so.


Bazalgette, Cary 2010, ‘Analogue Sunset. The Educational Role of the British Film Institute, 1979-2007’, in Comunicar 35, Grupo Comunicar, Huelva.

Reia-Baptista, V. 2010, ‘Film Languages in the European Collective Memory’, in Comunicar 35, Grupo Comunicar, Huelva.

2008, ‘Multidimensional and Multicultural Media Literacy – social challenges and communicational risks on the edge between cultural heritage and technological development’, in Empowerment through Media Education (Carlsson & Tayie, eds.), Nordicom, Göteborg.

2006, ‘New Environments of Media Exposure – Internet and narrative structures: from Media Education to Media Pedagogy and Media Literacy’, in Regulation, Awareness, Empowerment (Carlsson, U. ed.), Nordicom, Göteborg.

6 See Comunicar 35, 2010, pp 10-82.

7 Ibidem.

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