Hacking scandal shows why media education is so essential



Dave Harrison, Long Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge

I often struggle with arguing about the validity of Media Studies as a subject – partly through self-loathing, but also because a tiny part of my mind is a bit Daily Mail (only a tiny bit, I inherited it from my Nana) – but this News International thing I think crystallizes why the subject is so important. There’s the issue of this scandal being a ‘media’ scandal and it is valuable for looking at media regulation, but these monumental events could should be covered in History (eventually) or Politics. Then there’s the idea that you need to know how Media works in terms of institutions and practices, to uncover and comprehend the scandal – but again I feel that this is missing the point. And this is what I feel the point is…

What is being exposed here the fact that one man and his family, has dominated UK Media, moulding it, and so society with it, into a shape that suited their needs. Whether this is how celebrities or royalty are seen, how politicians should be treated, how sections of the society are represented or how we should see the nation as whole. All this has a very visible, tangible and actual affect on the way we perceive, behave and respong. If we accept this process happens and if we don’t equip young people with the tools to deconstruct their experience, to look behind the representations and the stories, then there is the risk that the media will remain too influential.

That’s why Media Studies is so vital – it’s about creating the understanding that EVERYTHING in the media is constructed and so has the finger/thought prints of those constructed all over it. So asking WHY are things being constructed in certain ways is essential – otherwise naturalised American-Australian families with crap glasses get to shape how WE perceive the world.

And the damage this causes is very real, and if the right questions are not asked by all audiences then the damage can be deep and long lasting.

While many are rightly losing their lunches over the grisly details of the present scandal, it’s worth remembering who the forerunners were in the rejection of swallowing a perverted worldview wrapped up as ‘The Truth’. The City of Liverpool has run a successful boycott of News International’s The S*n since it attempted to stand on the neck of a community when it was already down, just to save the jobs, blushes and credibility of the establishment. This was in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster when The S*n led a smear campaign against Liverpool fans who turned up to watch the FA Cup Semi Final, but left seeing 96 of their own crushed to death and then were accused by The S*n of urinating on the dead bodies.

For the people of Liverpool the poisonous fabrication was obvious, but if more people outside the city had asked WHY? – why should we believe this? why would anyone want to soil their hands constructing this untruth? – then perhaps the city’s quest for justice would be less painful and better supported.

This is more than just understanding that today’s news will be made transparent by the grease of tomorrow’s fish supper, as we live in an exceptionally media saturated time. More so than ever, the world we experience is filtered through the media; even close relationships are becoming digital constructions; so understanding mediation, being able to pick meaning apart and to actually give a monkeys about what we let into our head should be part of every individual’s toolkit. Today’s youth are certainly tech savvy so can access content in a multitude of ways but that does not necessarily mean they are media savvy, so it would be negligent of an education system not to prepare them to become able readers and writers of media.

Media Studies has the power to do this and it’s easy to forget this when trying to explain the cultural importance of Rebecca Black in front of a fidgeting class. Media in the curriculum has never been more relevant. It’s making media ownership, media agendas and media representation less daunting and less ‘all-powerful’ and empowering the students to peek around the curtain and realize, just like in The Wizard of Oz, it was all just a little old man all along.

This piece was written late on the 12th July 2011 so much will have happened in the phonehacking scandal since then. So as the world awaits what other horrors are to be revealed and hundreds of C-lists celebs pray to God they are one of the 3800+ phonehacking victims, this all seem very fresh, raw and important. I just hope it still is when you’re reading this.

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  1. Joe Ruocco says:

    Do students need to take Media Studies to think like this though? Are you saying those students who study other subjects have no critical comprehension of the media and it’s constructed society?

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