Hey, what about the rest of us? Surveying the gaps.

Ruth Zanker, New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch NZ, Member of the New Zealand Unesco communications committee.

People who were infants in the late 1980s and early 1990s now run media studies departments and the young adults I work with in the New Zealand Broadcasting School go to ‘just in time’ contract jobs in a post-neoliberal and digital media environment. Many can teach baby-boomers a thing or two!
In this media environment it becomes harder to tell media professionals from other media users because everyone who has access and chooses to is able to tell, share and respond to stories. We are, indeed, at an interesting crossroads in media education.

So, my question is: What is ‘media education’ for? It is fair to say that over the last 30 years it has become a capacious basket into which a motley assortment of educational rationales, pedagogies and media practices have been thrown.  Just take media education in secondary schools as an example. Media education has been claimed to be variously: a prophylactic against violent/naughty/exploitive media content – a celebration of popular culture – a preparation for good citizenship – a radical pedagogy that unmasks the role of media within capitalist power structures – craft training for the new lightweight digital audio-visual economy.

As we explore ‘what is media education for’ has another dimension: ‘who is media education for?’ I suspect that debate will have generational and geographic (north/south) cultural dimensions.

This is why I think it is so useful to have a website rather than a publication. It offers a chance to explore contributions outside the published ‘centres’ of media education debate. It embraces tiny places like New Zealand, an early adopter of secondary school media education, as well as inspirational places like Bhutan where media education pioneers are constructing media literacy curriculum materials at the same time as the first telecommunications network is rolled out.

My creds

I come from New Zealand. Geoff Lealand has already eloquently outlined the growth of standalone secondary school Media studies in New Zealand and how it has grown into a subject area that students are proud to put on their CVs. I have been involved in developments on both sides of ‘the ditch’, first in Australia during the 1970s (we developed super 8 films in black bags after class because we believed in the praxis of media making informing media understanding). And then in New Zealand (from the intoxicating moment when portapaks arrived and ruled). Both sides of the antipodean ditch, it is fair to say, has drawn on UK media education frameworks published by the likes of Masterman, Alvarado and Cary Bazalgette at the BFI (though its film focus caused heated debate as television, and even comics moved into the mix).  We ‘magpied’ resources from around Australia (Robyn Quinn for example) and drew on those created by Canadian John Pungente, where there always seemed to be money for media education.

Before I go on to explore some critical issues around another critical aspect of media education (community media education) I want to reflect on Geoff Lealand’s NZ secondary school story briefly because it will help me draw my comments together better at the end of this piece.

First: there is a continuing unresolved (and creative) tension between teachers who want media studies to remain an outlier zone of joyous fandom and media making (a challenge to the very structure of modern schooling) and those who want to see it gain respectability ‘within the fold’ of assessed subjects. It has been pragmatic to appeal to educational stakeholders, politicians and parents. The pitch that sells is that media education enables students to become informed consumers and active citizens who can navigate an increasingly mediated world. But, from my observation, media studies  continues to be a subversive pedagogy: at its best it fosters creative joy and ways of viewing the mainstream media from outlier web 2.0 perspectives.

Second: Coursework around Information and Computer Technology has now developed as a separate silo within New Zealand schools. It has its own supporters, structures and funding lines. It appeals to politicians because of its instrumental focus. It can say that it equips children to work within digital industries. But it fosters a rather limited view of media literacy.

These silos of media education and ICT literacy are a problem. They make less and less sense. Kids in New Zealand no longer relate to just ‘a medium’ (computer, television). As Jenkins puts it, they use ICT, telecommunications and media content within web participatory culture. It is a key challenge for us to bring them together.

Thirdly: I want to put in a plug for librarians in New Zealand. Some of them are visionaries who design libraries to bridge between in-school and out of school access to ICT technology. Computer drop-in centres enable access to rich ICT/media. Librarians consider themselves as experts in information literacy. Librarians form a key bridge between leisure use and secondary schools. Critically they provide resources for digitally deprived young people.

Now to some thoughts on the thorny problems facing ‘community media education’ in NZ.

This is an area close to my heart and it is an area which raises awkward questions around sustainability in New Zealand. The work on the ground is chaotic and marginal, even though charged with democratic idealism.

A brief background

During the 1980s Media Women , a brainchild of practising journalists and tertiary media teachers, was created to offer ‘just in time’ media education for the community. We hoped that powerless voices (eg NGOS and community groups) would learn how to counter the increasingly well groomed PR coming out of corporate institutions during a period of radical deregulation. We ran workshops which had sessions like ‘know your media’, ‘write your press release’, ‘how to be interviewed’. It folded when voluntary energy ran out.

In 1987 a group of parents, teachers, researchers (including Geoff Lealand) and children’s producers founded The Children’s Television Foundation(CTF) as the dire implications of media deregulation for local children’s media funding and programming became clear. CTF wrote letters, press releases and submissions to select committees around kitchen tables. We taught each other what we thought and knew about local media (I am told these days that this is seen as tertiary ‘knowledge transfer’). At the time it was very effective multi-point media education between producers, creatives, funders, parents and audience researchers. It was at its best when it argued fiercely about its role (say between parents wanting safe nostalgia and audience researchers wanting to give children their own voices). We didn’t realise what an effective gadfly it had been at the time with the broadcasting industries and politicians until after the voluntary committee grew tired and disbanded itself.

In its place a couple of us, rather ambitiously, decided to design a ‘media clearinghouse’ for New Zealand  We deposited CTFs fount of knowledge about the complex NZ media system, including research sources, informed opinion and viewpoint for anyone to explore or add to. We designed learning objects. We invited New Zealanders (regulators, producers, advertisers, parents, lobbyists, children) to contribute to the clearinghouse. Anyone could search for (or deposit) information, research and opinion about our mediascape. It was to become a low cost one stop shop for a small nation. The objective was to foster more informed local media debate (there is little informed media commentary and criticism in New Zealand). Mediascape (www.mediascape.ac.nz) was launched in March 2006 with a small grants from regulators and the NZ Digital Strategy fund. Alas, what timing! It launched into the explosion Youtube in 2005, local specialized blogging sites in 2006 and Facebook in 2007.  Students still find it a valuable source about our media industry but the commercial media stakeholders have expressed no interest in ongoing funds for something designed to stir up informed media debate! It will be archived in 2011 due to lack of sponsors…not lack of possible directions.

In summary:

Community media education initiatives are turned down by Education Ministries because media education ‘stops at the school gate’. There is no traction to obtaining funding from the self-regulated industry. This is in stark contrast to the Canadian industry funded model for Media Awareness. Canadian telecommunications and media industries sponsor this as part of their corporate social responsibility (see http://www.media-awareness.ca). Nor has media ‘literacy’ been picked up as a part of national digital media policy, as exemplified by OFCOM (to date at least) and the Nordic region. Statutory regulatory websites offer elements of media education, but these target secondary schools. Netsafe, narrowly designed to help parents with the dangers of the internet, finds funders.

New Zealand has few resources for community media education, despite it being a first world nation in the UN charts. It is a double whammy: it is a tiny economy that has very limited local funding sources
at the same time
it is not eligible for first world funds from the likes of Google or the Soros foundation charities which, quite rightly, go to nations like South Africa or Sri Lanka.

So where from here?

2010 was the year in which many bits of the puzzle came together for me. A key trigger was hearing two members of the Unesco Media and Information Literacy (MIL) writing group addressing radically different constituencies.

First I heard Unesco’s Alton Grizzle at the 5th World Congress on Children, Youth and Media in May in Karlstad Sweden (http://www.wskarlstad2010.se/). He presented a new model for ‘Media and Information Literacy’ that seemed to bring all the silos under one umbrella. It seemed to bridge the efforts of Media educators, ICT facilitators as well as the information literacy spear-headed by librarians (were there any at Karlstad?). It also bridged generations.

Then, in November I heard Ramon Tuazon (President of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication), who was also part of the Media and Information Literacy writing group, speak about Media and Information Literacy model. This time it was at the 5th Asia-Pacific Information Network (APIN) and ICT Literacy Workshop in Manila. I attended this as a representative of New Zealand’s Unesco Communications Committee. This time there was a very different mix of stakeholders: ICT engineers involved in digital roll out, regulators and information access librarians from around the region. Ramon and I were the only self-declared media educators attending (although Tshering Dendip from the Bhutanese department of Information and Media of the Ministry of Information and Communication presented an impressive media literacy curriculum to the group on the last day!).

The place of transnational initiatives:

Transnational agreements are attempting to position media education firmly within a larger set of civic rights across the world, not just in the first world. These agreements include media related principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989),The UN Alliance of Civilizations media education initiatives (2009) and Unesco’s Media and Information Literacy initiatives (2010). They each have the goal of extending the rights to media education beyond the hubs in North America, Europe and even the Antipodes.  Again we need to guard against each becoming its own institutional and funding silo. They work best amplifying each other.

There seems to be agreement that we now have both top down (telecoms, ICT, broadcasting and newspapers) and bottom up (social networking, Youtube and community access) media production. These key trends are at their most startling in the emerging nations that are leapfrogging over one way broadcasting and telecommunications technology straight into digital interactive media.  This is, critically, happening in regions with very young demographics. In Africa, parts of Asia and South America young are moving straight from radios to mobile phones.

This is a fantastic moment to grasp. It is something that those of us living in ‘mature’ (and increasingly elderly) media environments need to appreciate. It turns our top down media pedagogy on its head. It creates new learning objects and objectives.

As Mr Faaig Umar from the Maldives put it eloquently at the APIN meeting in Manila when he said: we want media and information literacy NOW but on our terms. Why? The Maldives has moved straight to mobile 3G and now has two complementary problems. Yes, there is the familiar challenges of sudden access to global corporate media and social networks and the cultural pleasures and anxieties that prompts. But this process is being paralleled by the new abilities of citizens to participate in government. Mr Faaig Umar told us that there is an urgent new problem to solve: the over participation of citizens in e-government! Ease of access to government has gummed up the digital works.

The battle for infrastructure (telecommunications roll out and access to computers) is ongoing for many nations (including New Zealand) BUT the desire for media and information literacy increasingly runs in parallel with these developments.

Our debate is larger than secondary school media education, where much of the pioneering work focused. It must embrace out of school opportunities for media and information literacy across older generations, as well as young.

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