IRIS Plus 2011-3: Media Literacy

Author: Tarlach McGonagle, Institute for Information Law (IViR), Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam

Published: 01/05/2011

Continuous learning is a well established concept to guarantee that graduation from school or university does not mark the end of studying the subjects related to one’s profession. The more an area of knowledge is apt to change the bigger the need to stay on one’s toes. Training on the job is certainly another way to handle the challenge but depending on the sophistication of the issues it may turn out to be a dead end.

Continuous learning is also a must for staying abreast with the audiovisual services offered by today’s media. However, the difference between training for the job and training for using media is that many of us already lack basic education in how to handle the technical equipment, how to use interactive services and how to access the desired content. Sadly, an incapacity to use correctly today’s media entails risks ranging from not finding what we are looking for to accessing harmful content to generating unwanted bills for the services used. Even worse, lacking the necessary technical media skills excludes us from a significant part of today’s life because more and more it is the media which determine our world of entertainment, knowledge and daily services.

Not surprisingly, media literacy has risen to be a new star on the European policy horizon. But it is still a long haul for the new born favourite to win any European contest as the lead article of this IRIS plus nicely demonstrates. First of all, the potential disciplines where media literacy must be achieved are numerous and they require focusing on different societal groups, developing different learning methods and seconding them with the appropriate funding as well as possibly the institutional and legal framework. For example, we must be media literate in order to make informed choices about what media to use, to be critical towards the content displayed and to fully enjoy the potential of interactive services. “Learning to use media” is different for children and the elderly, for private and professional users, for physically disadvantaged persons. Acquiring a certain level of media literacy might be costly if countries run special programmes and this could be facilitated by coherent classification or warning systems across media and across borders. Soft laws or hard rules might be needed to work towards bringing different approaches together or to get media literacy even started.

The lead article of this IRIS plus provides an initial exploration of different theoretical approaches to media literacy and it familiarises you with different normative pillars and settings used by European legal instruments upon which actions to promote media literacy might be built. The related reporting section presents recent national developments that are likely to impact issues related to media literacy or that aim at fostering media literacy related activities. The Zoom section goes into the details of one concrete example chosen to show how a programme aimed at increasing media literacy can look.

The question remains when all or most of the European countries will have established a permanent basis for continuous learning schemes that ensure an adequate understanding of the functions, opportunities and risks of audiovisual media services.