Enduring Understandings in Media Literacy

1. Audiences actively interpret media

Meaning does not reside in the media text itself, but is a product of the interaction between text and audience. Audiences interpret meaning based on situational elements such as geography, culture, age, class, gender, time of day, and the context in which they interact with the medium. Various media forms resonate in different ways, depending upon the experiences, values and knowledge that audiences bring to it. Although audiences differ in their perceptions, understandings and reactions to media, the key to media literacy is to educate them to be aware of their own subjectivity as well as that of others.

2. All media are constructions

Media are neither reality nor windows to the world. Instead, they are carefully constructed products – from newspaper headlines to nature documentaries. A media literate person is aware that many decisions are made in the construction of each media product and that even the most realistic images represent someone’s interpretation of reality. By critiquing and constructing media, it becomes possible to analyze and produce different interpretations of reality.

3. All media are owned

All media are owned by individuals or institutions that have historical-social contexts that may be concealed from the general public. Institutional elements from production to distribution influence the content as well as audience perceptions of the content. It is important to call attention to the idea that commercial institutions are owned and ultimately operated according to principles that will generate the highest profit. Therefore, media representations are carefully constructed to achieve this goal.

4. All media express values

Media are carefully constructed products that represent a particular view of actual people, places, events, and ideas. These values are oftentimes hidden from the audience, and a critical consumer of media needs to be able to decode the media messages to uncover these values. Questions to ask of each medium are: "Whose story is told?" "Whose interests are served by this representation?" "Whose story is left out?" and "To what extent is this representative of reality?"

5. All media adhere to specific codes and conventions

Whether it be through editing, narration, sequencing, camera angles, soundtrack or timing – each media form has a language of its own and uses different conventions to achieve specific rhetorical effects. Magazine editors use different codes and convention as compared to video producers as compared to web designers. The languages used influence the constructed meaning of the media text and are intended to control the audience’s response.


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