SHIKSHANTAR:

The Peoples' Institute for Rethinking Education and Development

"Humans have acquired world-transforming technologies without the corresponding wisdom to know how to use them." Carl Sagan (1993)

Shikshantar Sansthan is pleased to share the following draft concept paper to stimulate critical reflection, open discussion and brainstorming, and creative action. We are in the exploratory phase of this project and invite your feedback and support.

DRAFT February, 1999

CRITICAL MEDIA AWARENESS CONCEPT PAPER

Satellite and electronic media have become a powerful force in our lives today as they shapes our attitudes, desires, priorities, relationships, values, sense of identity, modes of reflection, the ways/scales in which we build community, and our perceptions of time and change. (Throughout this discussion, the term ‘media’ should be understood to encompass printed materials, radio, television, and new communication and information technologies.) The UNESCO Global Study on Media Violence states that "TV has become a major socialization factor and dominates the lives of children in urban and electrified rural areas around the globe" (Grobel, 1998). Richard J. Barnet and John Cavanagh go even further in arguing that the MTV entertainment network, which specializes in pop videos and serves as continuous commercial for a wide array of commercial products "may be the most influential educator of young people in five continents today" (Korten, 1995).

Underlying such statements, lie the deep fears and worries of political leaders, academics, parents, and spiritual leaders around the world about the Westernization, consumerization, cultural homogenization/degradation, violence, etc. of our youth. However, to truly understand the magnitude of what faces us, we must recognize that it is not only the youth who are prey to this media expansion. India today faces a much larger crisis as teachers, parents, communities – urban and rural -- are also being influenced/manipulated/coerced by the media. Some are aware of what is happening, others are not, but all feel powerless in the face of this onslaught.

The implications of the growing new media are greater than simply increased violence, greater consumerism or reinforcing of negative stereotypes of certain groups. In describing the ‘Manufacturing of Consent’ by the state-corporate nexus in ‘democratic societies’, Noam Chomsky (1991) discusses how the media is used to manipulate the real interests of local people,

"A properly functioning system of indoctrination has a variety of tasks, some rather delicate. One of its targets is the ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’ masses. They must be kept that way, diverted with emotionally potent simplications, marginalized and isolated. Ideally, each person should be alone in front of the TV screen watching sports, soap operas, or comedies, deprived of organizational structures that permit individuals lacking resources to discover what they think and believe in interaction with others, to formulate their own concerns and programs, and to act to realize them. They can be permitted, even encouraged, to ratify the decisions of their betters in periodic elections. The ‘rascal multitude’ are the proper targets of the mass media and a public education system geared to obedience and training in needed skills, including the skill of repeating patriotic slogans on timely occasions."

Of equal concern, is the limited number of genuine spaces for public reflection and debate around the role and content of media that currently exist in the country. Certain political interest groups are eager to mobilize the public in banning specific productions that they find ‘offensive’. In reaction, zealous advocates of Freedom of Expression argue in black and white terms about issues of censorship. But the gray areas, which allow for local people to develop their own critical consciousness, to negotiate their different understandings of what is considered ‘artistic’ and what is against the ‘public interest’, and to create and evolve their own media policies, is not being developed.

At the same time, media can also be a very powerful tool for supporting dynamic and diverse forms of learning -- every media experience can become an opportunity to learn or to enhance one’s learning abilities and processes. Yet, very few opportunities for creating a truly ‘liberating media’ exist. Part of this is due the fact that most media producers tend to view media as vehicle for only one-way transmission of information (the underlying assumption to this is that people are empty vessels). They fail to see that the real power of the media lies in stimulating new forms of creativity, critical reflection, understanding, expressiveness, and sharing.

There is an urgent need to develop concrete community-based efforts to understand and address the challenges that are emerging from a media-rich society. At the same time, there is also an urgent need to develop innovative positive uses of the media to facilitate the learning and empowerment of people. Shikshantar Sansthan is therefore interested in supporting the development of a critical media literacy project with schools, NGOs and communities that seeks to re-appropriate the media into the hands and interests of the people so that they can use it to more consciously transform themselves and their societies.

WHAT IS CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY?

"In Technopoly, we are driven to fill our lives to ‘access’ information. For what purpose, or with what limitations, it is not for us to ask; and we are unaccustomed to asking, since the problem is unprecedented. The world has never before been confronted with information glut and has hardly had any time to reflect on its consequences."

                                                                                                                                                Neil Postman (1992)

Media literacy, as defined by the The Aspen Institute Leadership Forum on Media Literacy (1992) and the Canadian Association for Media Literacy < http://www.kqed.org/fromKQED/Cell/ml/home.html>, is the ability to "access, analyze, evaluate and produce communication in a variety of forms." Media literacy supports individuals and communities in becoming a more informed public which is capable of analyzing and ‘decoding’ the numerous messages that they are bombarded with on a daily basis. "It is concerned with helping individuals develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase an individual’s understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality" (Resource Guide: Media Literacy, 1996). Media literacy is also concerned with balancing one’s media diet. An informed public is the able to make judgments and active decisions about the information contained in media messages - whether to accept or reject it, whether to act upon it or ignore it - instead of simply being told what to believe.

Critical media literacy seeks to expose the expressive power as well as the limitations of different media. In order to truly take advantage of the potential learning opportunities provided by media, it is important for the public to move beyond being a ‘good’ audience to being a ‘critical’ one. This means that individuals and communities must understand the hidden meanings and agendas behind the messages they receive and the media from which these emanate. There must be a critical view of the content in terms of what is included as well as what is not included and why. Critical media literacy recognizes that media messages are not neutral or value-free, and that those on the receiving end must continually uncover the underlying ideological frameworks and the links to structures of power. It seeks to problematize media culture and media industries and the way that these are inter-connected with modern economic and political systems. A critical media analysis (Bazalgette, 1989) might involve investigating the following categories of questions:

Critical media literacy also implies that we must develop an understanding of how various technological and scientific forces are influencing our lives, our socio-cultural, economic and political structures, and the ways in which we communicate and connect with each other. Jerry Mander (1991) suggests critical questions we need to ask as communities about every media that we encounter:

          * How does the technology change work, family life, leisure, art?

* How does it alter our experience of everyday life?

* How does it change our concepts of self, community, politics, nature, time, distance?

* How does it influence how we learn, what we know and what we are capable of knowing?

* What are its implications for human health and disease, and the environment?

* How does it reorganize or reinforce power arrangements in society? For instance, does it centralize power or decentralize it?

* Does it serve to homogenize cultural groups or, on the contrary, to maintain diversity?

* Who gains and who loses?

Critical media literacy is also a critical step in unlocking the real potential of various media as powerful learning tools. A critical audience is not able to merely decipher various messages and to apply these to their own lives and communities, but also able to create new messages that are consistent with their own visions of development and progress. We believe that the ability to articulate one’s own experiences, to create and share information, and to have control of the media in one’s hands is essential to facilitating genuine empowerment of individuals and communities.

TOWARDS BUILDING CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY

"Systems of education, mass media, and other major cultural institutions should be reformulated so that these are not a form of cultural control but of cultural articulation."                                                                                                 Ron Burnett, 1996

Many critical media literacy projects have been developed around the world from which many interesting lessons can be learned. These include:

Some interesting experiments have also taken place in different parts of South Asia on a small scale. These include:

These experiences suggest that media when developed thoughtfully can play a empowering and liberating role in people’s lives. One of the most important lessons learned from these experiences is that teachers, parents, students, and community activists all have a key role to play in building critical media awareness. Shikshantar Sansthan proposes to develop a critical media literacy project with dynamic organizations and communities in Rajasthan:

The PREPARATORY PHASE of the project will involve:

    1. Identifying local partner schools, NGOs, community groups, media groups, etc. and getting their feedback on the development of the project;
    2. Conducting a participatory survey on media use with the partner groups; and,
    3. Gathering materials and documentation from different critical media literacy projects from around India and the world and learning from them.

The IMPLEMENTATION PHASE of the project will be developed in collaboration with the partner groups and their specific needs. Some potential activities might involve:

We request you to suggest groups that might be interested in participating in this project as well relevant experiences, projects, and materials that you know of.

REFERENCES

Babani, A. (1997) "Index on Media." Seminar. New Delhi. Volume 458: October 1997.

Bhattacharjea, A. (1997). "The Problem." Seminar. New Delhi. Volume 458: October 1997.

Bazalgette, C. (Ed.) (1989). Primary Media Education Statement. London: The British Film Institute Education Department.

Canadian Ministry of Education. (1994). Resource Guide: Media Literacy. Ontario, Canada.

Chomsky, N. (July 1991). "Force and Opinion." Z Magazine.

Gonzales, P. (1995). Exercises in Media Education. Mumbai: Tej-Prasarini & Don Bosco Communications.

Grobel, J. (1998). "The UNESCO Global Study on Media Violence." Report Presented to the Director General. Paris.

Herman, E. and R. McChesney. (1997). The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London: Cassell

Korten, D. (1995). When Corporations Rule the World. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press.

Mander, J. (1991). In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Sarkar, S. and S. Agarwal. (1997). "Using the Video." Seminar. New Delhi. Volume 455: July 1997.

Sclove, R. (1995). "Making Technology Democratic" in Brook J. And I. Boal (Eds.) (1995). Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information. San Francisco: City Lights.

Thomas, P. (1993). "Information Technologies Possibilities and Problems." Voices-A Journal on Communication for Development. Volume 1. Bangalore, India: Madhyam Communications.

UNESCO-Learning Without Frontiers. (1998). Re-Conceptualizing Learning Environments For Sustainable Human Development: The Potential Of ICTs. Ghana Computer Literacy And Distance Education Conference, May 20 – 22, 1998. Paris: UNESCO.

Unnikrishan, N. and S. Bajpai. (1996). The Impact of Television Advertising on Children. New Delhi: Sage Publications.