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Why Media Literacy Matters

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

For those of us who care about the media and its role in society and politics, the recent events surrounding News Corp in the UK have provided plenty of fodder for conversation. While there are many ways to analyze the situation, one aspect which has proved interesting to follow from a CommGAP perspective is the debate over how competing media outlets (or even the ones owned by News Corp) are and should be covering the story. This Washington Post article unpacks some of the ownership ties and potential (or perceived) conflicts of interest behind the coverage, noting that corporate affiliations have raised suspicions about the independence and objectivity of coverage.

But while some may use this as an excuse to bemoan the complexities of corporate media ownership, I'm more interested in lauding the surrounding phenomenon - namely, heightened transparency surrounding media ownership, combined with frank criticism and dissection of how the media as a whole is performing in covering one of its own. In CommGAP's new publication, Developing Independent Media As An Institution of Accountable Governance, I've stressed the role of media civil society organizations and a media-literate public as a crucial element underpinning an independent media sector. Why? Precisely for reasons surfaced by the News Corp case: educated media consumers can make informed decisions about the nature and quality of the coverage they're getting; media watchdogs can hold media to account when they're perceived as sacrificing objectivity or other important journalistic values; and society as a whole benefits when the media sector holds itself accountable, just as it holds others accountable.
None of this is to say that the allegations currently being levied against news organizations in the UK in particular and the media as a whole in general are undeserving of serious consideration. But one of the best defenses against misbehavior by the media is the cultivation of a media-literate civil society, alongside supporting institutions. As politicians discuss ways to impose responsibility on the media, let's not forget that developing self-correcting mechanisms like these may prove more healthy for democratic debate and discussion in the long run.

Photo Credit: Terje S. Skjerdal

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Submitted by Martin Hadlow on
I have been involved with a comprehensive Media and Information Literacy Project (MIL) under the auspices of UNESCO. The program reaches out to schools and training colleges, thus enabling teachers to have a better understanding of issues and how to include this important subject in the curriculum at secondary school level. Check the UNESCO web-site (Communication and Information Sector) for additional details.

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