In late January, I attended the 27th General Conference of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA). I gave a presentation on the role of the media in combating everyday corruption. This is something I will write about someday soon. But on the first day of the conference, I joined a special session where regulators of broadcasting from around the world discussed their work and the main issues they were dealing with. I found all the regulators knowledgeable and impressive; and they persuaded me that the intersection of efforts to improve the quality of governance in developing countries and efforts to develop media systems in these countries is to be found in the work regulators of broadcasting do. Kate Stross, the Director of Content, Ofcom (the United Kingdom regulator) told me that the regulator has to worry about the population in the two roles people have: citizens and consumers. Regulation for citizenship is where all the good governance concerns come in. Again, this is a broad question that CommGAP aims to pursue.
But one regulator in particular spoke eloquently and passionately about one issue that, in his view, broadcast regulators need to worry about. His name is Cordel Green, Executive Director, the Broadcasting Commission, Jamaica. He thinks regulators now need to worry about media literacy for the citizens of their countries. Why? First, he says, because the 'new and dynamic media framework presents challenges that are different from those that previously obtained.' He is referring, of course, to the impact of both the global media revolution and the digital revolution fueling it. Says Green: 'Greater empowerment of audiences is now necessary given the pervasive nature of electronic media and easy access to a range of problematic content, especially by children.'
Here is more: ' You can't regulate to inoculate anymore. The environment is too porous. You cannot use industrial age tools for the digital age. You have to fall back on media literacy. In the new age our children need the three Rs [reading, writing and arithmetic] and media literacy.' Apparently, Jamaica has a pilot media literacy project going already. Says Green: 'It is interwoven into the curriculum as a life- skill.'
Cordel Green's argument has been on my mind since I listened to him in January. And I have been asking: in an age of spin-doctors and misinformation gurus how do we create democratically competent citizens and also hold the mass media accountable unless we take media literacy as a life-skill, and as a citizenship skill seriously?
I suspect that this is one issue that will not go away.
(Photo Credit: Flick user Tanya Ryno)