Media literacy is being able to understand and evaluate different types of media and media content by analyzing the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It’s looking at everything from music videos and web sites, to advertisements and movies, and asking yourself questions: What lies behind this? What’s the hidden message? Who’s making money from this? What do they want me to believe? It’s about being aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.
The 3 Stages of Media Literacy
Media literacy is an overall term that incorporates three stages of a continuum leading to media empowerment:
1. The first stage is simply becoming aware of the importance of managing one’s media “diet”— that is, making choices and reducing the time spent with television, videos, electronic games, films and various print media forms.
2. The second stage is learning specific skills of critical viewing— learning to analyze and question what is in the frame, how it is constructed and what may have been left out. Skills of critical viewing are best learned through inquiry-based classes or interactive group activities, as well as from creating and producing one’s own media messages.
3. The third stage goes behind the frame to explore deeper issues. Who produces the media we experience—and for what purpose? Who profits? Who loses? And who decides? This stage of social, political and economic analysis looks at how everyone in society makes meaning from our media experiences, and how the mass media drive our global consumer economy. This inquiry can sometimes set the stage for various media advocacy efforts to challenge or redress public policies or corporate practices.
Although television and electronic media may seem to present the most compelling reasons for promoting media literacy education in contemporary society, the principles and practices of media literacy education are applicable to all media— from television to T-shirts, from billboards to the Internet.