VIMUKT SHIKSHA (LIBERATING EDUCATION)
Engaging the Global Media*
April, 1999 – Issue 3
Inside this Issue
Violence in the Media
Letters to the Editor
Media On Our Minds
Mass Media, Factory-Schooling and The Global Order
Case Study: Channel One
Who Controls the Media
Buy Something - Do It Now!
Appropriating the Media
Is More Technology the Solution?
Censorship vs. Freedom of Expression
Mediating the Media
Media Literacy At Home
Integrating Media Literacy in the Classroom
Challenging the Media
Closer to Home...
Further Reading and Resources
* The term ‘global media’ should be understood to encompass the film, television, video game, radio, newspaper, magazine, and Internet industries.
"Citizens of democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control and to lay the basis for meaningful democracy."
* * *
How does the global media change our concepts of self, family, community, work, leisure, politics, art, nature, time, and distance? How does it influence how we learn, what we know and what we are capable of knowing? Who controls the global media and what are their agendas? How does the global media reproduce or challenge unjust power structures? What new opportunities for human empowerment does the global media provide?
In this issue of Vimukt Shiksha, we ask you to think more deeply about the role that the global media is playing in our society: how is it changing our perceptions of ourselves and our realities?; what does the media mean for our pursuit of a more democratic, meaningful, and pluralistic lifestyles?; and, how we should transform our current educational processes, relationships and spaces to address the challenges and opportunities of the media?
Why Indian Educators Need to Engage the Global Media
We are not prepared for the challenges of living in the global media age. The recent tragic murder/suicides of students in Colorado raise many questions about where our world is heading. . .
It is not an understatement to say that TV plays a significant role in influencing our attitudes, desires, priorities, relationships, values, sense of identity, and modes of reflection. The emergence of the global media forces us to see processes of learning, information sharing, knowledge-construction, socialization, empowerment, and Swaraj, in a larger context beyond the four walls of factory-schooling. Indeed, Richard Barnet and John Cavanagh have argued that MTV, which specializes in music videos and serves as a continuous commercial for a wide array of consumer products "may be the most influential educator of young people in five continents today." The spread of the global media raises several complex, inter-connected societal issues such as, violence, consumerism, Westernization and cultural homogenization/degradation, stereotyping, information glut/overload, which must be seriously thought over and debated by those involved with education. This being said, it must be clarified that people are not simply passive receivers of information. Viewers make their own readings and negotiate their own meanings around media ‘text’, based on their own experiences and ideological frameworks. They also express resistance in their own ways. However, in India today, it is not very clear to what extent these understandings are at variance with the agendas of the powerful transmitting sources.
One can argue that the real problem is that the global media is shutting down our institutions for societal reflection -- those thoughtful, democratic spaces that help us to construct and negotiate a larger set of intellectual, emotional and spiritual reference points for reading and evaluating the various (oftentimes contradictory) messages and media that we encounter. This has several dimensions. First, children are spending more time indoors in front of the TV, and less time interacting with each other their immediate outside environments. Within the household, the spaces for thoughtful discussion and meaning-making within the family are also breaking down. Second, the kind of decontextualized programs that our children are watching, such as film songs, sports, cartoons, quiz shows, and game shows, serve to entice children into what Langdon Winner has called a state of ‘technological somnabulism’ (sleepwalking). When we try to take this drug away from them, children often react with great hostility. Lastly, the global media often devalues and undermines informal participatory folk media which provide alternative perspectives on peoples’ realities. The standard response thus far by government and citizen groups to this crisis is censorship - which itself represents another form of thought control.
Media can potentially be a very powerful tool for supporting dynamic and diverse forms of learning. However, most media producers, activists and educationists still tend to view media as vehicle for only one-way transmission of information. The real power of the media ultimately lies in stimulating new forms of creativity, critical thinking, understanding, caring and sharing; in questioning and challenging unjust structures of power; and in helping communities to work together to articulate their own visions of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. Such people-centered applications are becoming more feasible given the increasing accessibility of video cameras, community radio transmitters, desk-top publishing programs, personal websites, etc. Critical media awareness -- the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and produce communications in a variety of forms -- for children and adults is the first step towards unlocking the real potential of various media as empowering learning tools and rebuilding spaces for meaningful societal reflection.
None of the major policy documents on education in India have given serious thought about the socio-cultural, pyschological and ideological challenges of living in an age of global media. Nor have they thought about how to create an empowering local media infrastructure. It is time that those concerned with education in India break out of the box of factory-schooling and join teachers, cultural activists, and concerned parents around the world in trying to engage the global media and to construct a lifelong learning system for the 21st century that supports the development of the full human potential. We invite you to join in this process.
* * *
Media Facts: According to a study conducted by The Centre for Media Studies (Delhi), as of September 1998, there were only 54 programmes on the 15 major channels in India that were deemed suitable for children.
Media Facts: The perfect/ideal woman seen in the media -- what young girls measure themselves against -- is not representative of the general population. Today, fashion models weigh 23% less than the average female. In fact, the "ideal body type today is unattainable by most women, even if they starve themselves." (J. Kilbourne. 1994. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. New York: Gilford Press.)
Media Facts: The American Psychological Association estimates that children see about 10,000 acts of violence per year on television.
Violence in the Media ...
Between 1996-1997 UNESCO conducted a global study on media violence involving five thousand students from 23 countries, both developing and industrialized. Within each country, data was collected from a mixture of urban and rural areas, of high- and low-aggression environments, from boys and girls, and from different types of schools. The study found striking similarities of television’s impact on youth from very different situations. The participants, all 12-year-olds, answered a standardized 60-item questionnaire covering their media behavior, viewing habits, preferences and social environment. The five major issues addressed were: 1) the role of media, particularly TV; 2) why children are fascinated by media violence; 3) the relationship between media violence and aggressive behavior among children; 4) how cultural and gender differences in the media impact aggression; and 5) the influences of both violent environments and the state of technological developments in coping with aggressive media content. The results of the study are significant to those involved in education because they indicate that television is increasingly shaping children’s values and cultural experiences.
Children take social cues from what they see in their immediate environments. Media programming offers one view of the world which then, depending on several other variables, guides the behavior of children. Approximately 93% of the students who attend school and live in electrified urban or rural areas have regular access to television and watch it for an average of three hours a day. This represents at least 50% more than the time spent on any other out-of-school activity, including homework, being with friends, or reading. One can argue that television is the most powerful source of information and entertainment besides face-to-face interaction.
In many countries, there is an average of five to ten aggressive acts per hour of television. Most studies show that the relation between media violence and "real" violence is interactive: media can contribute to an aggressive culture; people who are already aggressive use the media as further confirmation of their beliefs and attitudes, which, in turn, are reinforced through media content. Answers to the questionnaire showed a fascination with aggressive media heroes, especially among boys: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Terminator" is a global icon, known by 88% of the children surveyed, be they from India, Brazil or Japan. Asked to name their favorite role models, boys most frequently named an action hero (30%), while girls opted for pop stars. More interesting is how children in difficult situations identify with such heroes, whether as means of compensation or as an escape from their harsh realities: 51% of the children from war or high-crime environments wish to be like Schwarzenegger, as compared to 37% in the low-aggression neighbourhoods.
A remarkable number of children from both groups (44%) report a strong overlap in what they perceive as reality and what they see on the screen. Many children are surrounded by an environment where "real" and media experiences both support the view that violence is natural. Close to one-third of the group living in high-aggression environments think that most people in the world are evil, a perception reinforced by media content. The impact of media violence can primarily be explained by the fact that aggressive behaviour is more systematically rewarded than more conciliatory ways of coping with one’s life. It is often presented as gratuitous, thrilling, and interpreted as a good problem-solver in a variety of situations. Contrary to the case of many novels or more sophisticated movies, media violence is often not set in a context. Furthermore, as the media becomes even more sophisticated with the introduction of three dimensions (virtual reality) and interactivity (computer games and multimedia) the representation of violence "merges" increasingly with reality.
Although the study gave a rather dismal outlook, it also suggested some ways to curb the "extent, extremeness, and reward characteristics" of media coverage. Media is a tool and can be positively applied in facilitating learning and societal growth. Moreover, interactive communication systems like the internet offer many new pro-social possibilities. Three major strategies for the media to have a more positive influence are:
- Public debate and "common ground" talks between the Five P’s: Politicians, Producers, Pedagogy, Parents, and the future Pro-sumers (active consumers)
- The development of codes of conduct and self-control among media professionals.
- The establishment of media education to create competent and critical media users.
Letters to the Editor
Here are comments we have received from readers around the sub-continent on our previous issues on Human Intelligences and Wisdom. We welcome your thoughts . . .
"The content and subject matter of the bulletin on multiple intelligences raise some very crucial questions related to entire system of school education. This issue has very appropriately highlighted many of our concerns and experiences while working with education in Rajasthan. It has given us encouragement and confidence to think more deeply about these issues. We are pleased to inform you that we have prepared a paper in Hindi on multiple intelligences and its implications for evaluation mechanisms. We will be sharing it with colleagues in Lok Jumbish’s Sahaj Shiksha programme. We hope to work together in creating new directions for education."
Researcher, Sandhan Shodh Kendra, Rajasthan
"I am pretty inspired by the bulletin on intelligences. I would like to apply these theories in my university. I have been discussing MI theory with a few of my friends here and I am trying to make them think about it. I have also talked to my teachers about it and I am going to do a presentation on MI but I need more information on it. . . because I want to inspire them."
Student of Information Technology, Hamdard University (Pakistan)
"After reading the issue on multiple intelligences, I have distributed copies of it to 15 of my pupil-teachers. I have also discussed it with fellow lecturers at the college. They all raised the question that in the present system of education only a few areas are given importance, so what does one do to develop the other kinds of intelligences? When we talk about 'Education for All', how do we give equal space and weightage to other types of intelligences? If we want talented sportsmen, musicians, dancers, artists -- and full human beings -- then we must first think about how can we save our children from developing inferiority complexes and low self-esteem."
Lecturer, Vidya Bhawan Teacher Training College, Rajasthan
"Having read about the different definitions of wisdom, I also started thinking about wisdom. In my view, wisdom is an infinite source of making human character perfect. It is wisdom that makes us open our hearts not only towards humanity but animals and plants as well. This is what we must develop in our schools."
Government School Teacher, Madhya Pradesh
Media On Our Minds
[Adapted from Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.]
Using research from cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Healy argues that several hours of playing video games and watching TV programs, from ages two to six, alters the brain’s physical structure and consequently change the way children think and learn. By emphasizing fast-paced visual images over person-to-person interactions, these media overstimulate certain parts of the brain and fail to provide necessary stimulation to other parts. The areas of the brain responsible for organizing data, critical analysis, creative thinking, and language construction weaken with disuse. The result is a generation of children who have trouble concentrating for extended periods, expressing their thoughts clearly, and interacting in social settings.
Changing Brains? The idea kept returning as I taught and watched students at different grade levels. I began to observe more carefully; these youngsters did seem different from those we used to teach. Today’s students looked and acted differently, of course, and they talked about different things, but I became increasingly convinced that changes ran deeper than that - to the very ways in which they were absorbing and processing information.
"Of course, large doses of any experience have shaping power over the brain," I was told again and again. If children’s experiences change significantly, so will their brains. Part of the brain’s physical structure comes from the way it is used.
What does the Research Say?
Strangely, there are very few studies on how television, video tapes, and computerized games affect children’s mental development. However,we know that children between ages two and six -- at the height of the brain’s cognitive and language development -- spend an average of twenty-eight hours per week viewing various TV programs (more time than other other activity except sleeping). This replaces active playtime and family conversation that builds language and listening skills, reading aloud, and games and activities in which adults show children how to solve problems, talk out future plans, or deal with their own emotions. When parents try to redirect their children away from TV, they find the children so 'addicted' to viewing that they are hostile to alternatives.
Appropriate, non-harmful technologies for studying the brain in action have become increasingly accessible. Neurological research suggests that television viewing affects the learning abilities in the following ways:
1. Television forces the brain to pay attention by eliciting instinctive responses. Some television and videotape programming artificially manipulate the brain into paying attention by violating certain of its natural defenses with frequent visual and auditory changes. Sudden close-ups, quick movements, bright colors, and sudden noises get attention because our brains are biologically programmed to be extremely sensitive to such changes that might signal danger. The brain registers specific changes after a camera zoom, for example, responding as if to real danger. Yet the impulse has no outlet. Researchers suggest that children thus stimulated, without natural physical outlets for the pent-up energy, might develop hyperactivity, frustration, irritability or aggression.
2. Television induces neural passivity and reduces ‘stick-to-it-iveness’. Exposure in early childhood to a great deal of television reduces vigilance (the ability to remain actively focused on a task). Children give up too easily when faced with a challenging learning situation. Furthermore, accustomed to the fast pace of images, children develop short attention spans and have trouble organizing and expressing their thoughts coherently in written or verbal form.
3. Passive viewing creates a 'zombie effect'. Research indicates television may have a hypnotic, and possibly neurologically addictive effect on the brain by changing the frequency of its electrical impulses in ways that block active mental processing. Children who watch TV programs - or even read books -- that are neither engaging nor comprehensible exhibit a preponderance of slow alpha waves which are classically associated with lack of mental activity.
Some will argue that children can learn valuable skills from the media. This raises the issue of 'transfer', that is, how much can we expect experiences with one type of input to build up abilities that can be used elsewhere. For example, we might reason that anything improving children's visual-spatial skills (e.g., playing fast-paced video games where objects coming from all directions at once must be shot at or avoided) should also improve their reading speed, or even their geometry abilities, which are known to call heavily on visual-spatial reasoning. However, research suggests that this is not the case as the brain often seems to have difficulty applying skills learned in one specific arena to other kinds of problems. Similarly, while some preliminary research suggests that eye-hand coordination may be improved by video games, there is little apparent transfer of this to tasks such as handwriting or playing sports. There is also no proof to the claim that video games increase problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Evolving Our Learning Environments
The above discussion, has great implications for those involved in education. We cannot ignore the effect of media on our children's minds. The young, who appear to command the new machines, are sometimes seen as having more wisdom than they really do. Although children may seem to know more facts and have more resources, they are less able to make sense of the (oftentimes overwhelming and contradictory) information that surrounds them. Parents, themselves confused, abdicate to the peer and popular culture much of the responsibility for contributing to their children’s mental development. Teachers continue to ignore the problem and focus only on the prescribed syllabus and exams.
If we wish to develop the full potential of our children and our society, parents, teachers and other community leaders must wake up and face the challenges posed by the global media. Our home, school and community learning environments must be re-conceived in relation to the media age.
Here are some ways that we can begin to re-order our schools so that our children continue to 'exercise' all parts of their brains:
• focus on team-building activities with group projects so children develop interpersonal skills;
• create less stressful learning situations by reducing high-stakes examinations and competition - when the brain is threatened, it downshifts (shuts down);
• build oral language skills by teaching structured ways of talking about what is being learned;
• choose assignments with open-ended questions requiring creative responses;
• structure experiences in the classroom which cause students to question, sort, organize, evaluate, and choose.
Mass Media, Factory-Schooling and
Maintaining the Global Order
At the end of the twentieth century, the stronghold of the State is rapidly being undermined by Transnational Corporations and Free Markets. The global mass media has emerged as the most sophisticated, ubiquitous and potent instrument for manufacturing the consent (absolute submission) of the masses in its quest to expand dominant (exploitative) structures of power. The autocratic potential of this mass media - the power of one speaking into the brains of many - is unprecedented and gives a new meaning to the notion of Big Brother. The global media has been able to penetrate national boundaries using the guise of freedom of expression and open access to information. What is not openly discussed is that the so-called channels of free expression and open information are tightly controlled by those that can afford to pay for the global media - the State, the military, organized religion and mega-corporations.
In the ‘global village’, the tandem of the global media and factory-schooling have acquired the highest moral legitimacy as the only authentic sources of learning and information. In their own process of non-inclusive expansion, they devalue and kill off other dynamic spaces for meaning-making and knowledge-construction. Any other efforts that seek to engage people in serious questioning and reflection outside of this paradigm of organized education come under savage attack (intellectual as well as physical) by the defenders of the faith.
Global Models of Media Organization
In their landmark efforts to deconstruct the mechanisms of ‘thought control in democratic societies’, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (Necessary Illusions, 1989) identify two dominant models of media organization: corporate oligopoly and state-controlled. The first model reduces democratic participation in the media to virtually zero - just as other corporations are, in principle, exempt from popular control or inquiry. In the case of state-controlled media, democratic participation might vary, depending on how the political system functions. In practice, however, the state-controlled media are generally kept in line by certain forces that have the power to influence the State, and by an apparatus of cultural managers who cannot stray far from the bounds these forces set.
The model of media as corporate oligopoly is the natural system for a capitalist democracy to embrace. This model has reached its highest form in the most advanced of capitalist societies, namely the United States, where a handful of large conglomerates control the mainstream media in the U.S. Pesky elements which seek a more radical form of democracy are only allowed to exist at the margins in such forms as community radio and the alternative press. Related characteristics of this capitalist democracy include: the progressive elimination of popular organizations that interfere with private power, an electoral system that is increasingly stage-managed as a public relations exercise, and avoidance of public welfare measures such as national health. From this perspective, it is reasonable for Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger to describe the U.S. as "a model democracy," - the term ‘democracy’ being understood as a system in which big business controls political as well as other major institutions. For the capitalist democracy to work, the masses must be ‘taught’ that the highest priority is to ensure that the elites are reasonably satiated. For submissiveness to become a reliable trait, it must be entrenched in every realm. The masses must ‘learn’ to accept their position as mere observers, not participants. Eduardo Galeano describes that "the majority must resign itself to the consumption of fantasy. Illusions of wealth are sold to the poor, illusions of freedom to the oppressed, dreams of victory to the defeated and of power to the weak." Nowhere in the world is this consumption of fantasy as wide-spread as in the contemporary South Asian sub-continent.
The Global Media in South Asia
In recent history, Gandhiji briefly posed a threat to global systems of exploitation and subjugation with his efforts to create a collective public mind guided by spirituality and a sense of justice. This transformative consciousness was built on raising critical civilizational questions regarding the legitimacy of major socio-political and technological institutions which essentially served the brutal purposes of racist foreign rulers and local elites. However, since Gandhiji, such collective consciousness geared towards reflecting on oppressive civilizational paradigms has been very effectively silenced by the one-two punch of Macauley’s factory-schooling and the invasion of capitalist democracy media models.
In South Asia today, we have developed a hybrid model of state-controlled media and a corporate oligopoly; though, the state-controlled model increasingly follows the commercial logic of advertising and serves the needs of big business and political parties while neglecting the larger public interest. For decades now, our State television channels have been selling us propaganda that we are ‘free’ and ‘democratic’. More recently, the so-called ‘rational’ and ‘unbiased’ voices of BBC and CNN have been telling us that economic liberalization and high tech weapons are the harbingers of freedom, justice and equity. We are told over and over again by the ‘free press’ that the fruits of globalization are our only hope if we are to overcome vast misery and poverty. There is no need to think about the implications of this, we should ‘just do it.’ These messages are cemented through the glorified images of international corporate-pop culture and the portrayal of a good-life enjoyed by a fraction of the population. A great emerging middle-class culture of family-centered alcoholism (see, for example, Outlook Magazine, June 1998), American fashion labels (such as Nike) or an avalanche of gratuitous beauty pageants are powerful indicators of the ‘liberation’ and ‘progress’ of South Asian Civilization which hitherto was restrained by the ‘backward’ ideals of modesty, austerity and simplicity.
Noam Chomsky provides a chilling analysis of how such a system of domination perpetuates itself in so-called democratic societies,
"A properly functioning system of indoctrination has a variety of tasks. Its primary target are the ‘stupid and ignorant masses’. They must be kept that way; 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, to engage in interaction with others, to formulate their own concerns and programs, and to act to realize them. This hapless 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."
We see how this analysis transpires in the South Asian context if we consider that the most favorite programs of children include ‘Hum Panch’, ‘Just Mohabhat’, and ‘Bournvita Quiz Show’, or what happens to the public when a cricket match is on. Our system of schooling (both public and private) fail to provide any space for developing the intellectual frameworks for challenging this system. The global media system and factory-schooling, then, perform the two-pronged function in South Asia of thwarting any meaningful reflection on blatant injustices and deeper social problems while selling seductive fantasies of a world of unlimited choices and needs. The inability to easily realize these fantasies leads to frustration which manifests itself in various other ways such as increased violence, alcoholism, drug-abuse, corruption, divorce, etc.
What can we do? One potential way to resist this rapid and unprecedented co-optation of our minds and souls is to generate serious discourse on the hidden agendas and conceptual assumptions underlying dominant media conglomerates. This discourse can only be ensured by opening up fresh spaces for societal learning that go beyond the global media and factory-schooling. Such societal learning spaces can be a preamble for launching a social and moral challenge to the hegemony of the merchants of corporate capitalism who filter the type and quantity of awareness which is allowed to be given to the masses.
Case Study: Media in the Classrooms
"Our minds are being addressed by addictive media serving corporate sponsors whose purpose is to re-arrange reality so that viewers forget the world around them."
We share with you a case study to discuss in a group with your colleagues and students.
When it was first introduced in 1990 in the United States, Channel One gave new meaning to the term ‘captive audience’. Channel One beams its news and advertisements for candy bars, fast food and shoes (such as Kit Kats, McDonald’s and Nike) directly into classrooms for 12 minutes a day (10 minutes of news and 2 minutes of commercials) in more than 12,000 schools in the United States. The school is lent a TV set, satellite dish and video equipment for each classroom in exchange for their agreement that Channel One will be shown on at least 90 percent of the school days to 90 percent of the children. Teachers are not allowed to interrupt the show or turn it off.
Launched by the flashy publishing entrepreneur, Chris Whittle, Channel One has reached some eight million students in 350,000 classrooms. A study in 1993 demonstrated that Channel One is most common in schools that serve poor and African-American students. Overburdened classroom teachers have been shown to be particularly fond of the programs as it provides them with a daily break from their students.
Corporations like Procter & Gamble and Reebok International spent an estimated US$100 million on advertising on the 12-minute ‘newscasts’ in 1996. A study by professors from Vassar College and Johns Hopkins University concluded that "The program is light on news and heavy on advertising and ‘filler’ material, and carries subliminal messages that could be harmful to the student viewers." These findings were disputed by a Channel One spokesperson who said the program has received more than 100 educational awards.
Another survey found that most of the students thought that since Channel One was shown in school, the products advertised on it must be good for them. However, groups like Citizens for Media Literacy are working to subvert Channel One by developing programs to teach critical media viewing skills.
· Would you support the introduction of Channel One into schools in India? Why?
· Do schools in India have the real power to say ‘no’ to these types of offers? If you were negotiating on behalf of schools in India, what terms would you demand from Channel One?
· What measures/activities would you introduce to regulate/reduce potentially harmful side effects of the programming?
· Do you know of similar cases involving funds from corporate sponsors in schools in your area? Please share and discuss these. Do you think that this should be allowed? Why or why not?
Buy Something - Do it Now!
One of the biggest critiques of television is that it is promoting a consumeristic, materialistic and individualistic society through advertising. In their book The Impact of Television Advertising on Children (1996) New Delhi: Sage Publications, Namita Unnikrishnan and Shailaja Bajpai seek to reach out to individuals - parents, teachers, policymakers, and even children - in the hope that it may initiate a debate on the future television and advertising in India.
From visual images, to music, to fashion, to lifestyles, TV advertising in India takes its cues from ‘Westernized’ images that are calculated to whet the appetite of the viewer. TV advertising transports us into a world of unbridled desire, urging us to purchase a vast range of products - cars, toiletries, cosmetics, clothes, motorcycles, household gadgets, toys, different kinds of foodstuff and much more. Such advertising is not a ‘value-neutral’ or harmless process of sharing information. TV advertising has an ideological function in that it seeks to create an environment conducive to a particular interest group - that of manufacturers and marketers - by altering people’s perceptions of themselves and of reality in order to orient the large Indian market to their products.
Children are most vulnerable to advertising since they do not oftentimes have the skills and experiences required to process advertisng messages in the context of their reality and needs. TV advertising suggests to children that their redemption lies in high levels of consumption and that happiness is defined by the products that are now becoming available.
After conducting a 15-month study with children of different socio-economic backgrounds in Delhi, Unnikrishnan and Bajpai found that:
-Almost every child in Delhi is a TV viewer and they cannot envisage their lives without a TV set;
- Indian children are more aware today than their parents of products in the marketplace and are reorienting their priorities to keep abreast with the changing economic environment;
- Many children are beginning to believe that the India and Indians they see in TV ads are the only ones worth emulating and learning from. Levels of dissatisfaction (and frustration) with what they have are now noticeably higher since TV advertising is imposing an image and expectation of life that is completely alien to the vast majority of Indian children;
- Television advertising is accepted as a given and there is little questioning of either the nature or content of advertising. Few attempts are being made to engage children, or adults, into a critical debate on the values and lifestyles that TV advertising advocates.
Who Controls the Media?
The following is adapted from The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism by Edward S. Herman & Robert W. McChesney, London: Madhyam Books, 1997.
The 1990s has witnessed a dramatic restructuring of national media industries and corporate mergers. The result of which is the emergence of the global commercial media network, which is dominated by ten mostly U.S.-based transnational media conglomerates (TMCs) such as Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, Sony, Dutch Philips, and News Corporation (owner of Star). This global media system is an indispensable agent of the globalizing, exploitative market economy as a whole.
Why is this significant? The centralization of power is leading to the disappearance of a central requirement of democratic societies -- diversity of ownership and ideas in the public sphere. The imposition of a commercial model of communication demands streamlining of production and economies of scale. It means less competition, fewer alternative choices, and greater emphasis on simplistic formulas (featuring violence and titillating sexual images) that can easily penetrate more markets. Return on investments, attractive consumer demographics, and low cost, rather than program quality and local needs, drive decisions. The global media system runs on advertising revenue (from other large companies) and is responsible primarily to their shareholders. There is no accountability to the general public.
At the same time, TMCs are taking over much of the discretionary powers of the government. The self-protective power of TMCs within developing countries is increasing from their growing command over information flows, political influence and the ability to set the media-political agenda. TMCs are further strengthened though international aid from the IMF or World Bank which is often tied to privatization (along foreign guidelines) of national communication industries. Countries who have tried to object to foreign media programming, advertising, or products have seen their aid frozen or decreased.
If we hope to break this media monopoly and redefine/construct democratic media spaces, teachers and educators must begin to play a greater role in the media debates.
Appropriating the Media
"Systems of education, mass media, and other major cultural institutions should be re-formulated so that these are not a form of cultural control but rather of cultural articulation."
Founded in 1985 in Harlem (New York, USA), Rise & Shine Productions <www.mmc.bard.edu/electronicnetworks/vural/mainpage1.htm> is non-profit organization dedicated to empowering young people and their communities through the creative use of language, media literacy, the arts, and multimedia technologies. It is Rise & Shine’s belief that critiquing the media, gaining quality representation in the media, and creating one's own media must be a part of any effective youth and community empowerment agenda.
Through in-school, after-school, and intergenerational community workshops, Rise & Shine Productions offers students (of elementary, middle and high school age) and older community members access to modern technologies while exposing them to the wonder of traditional, non-electronic fine art forms. By creating thematic interdisciplinary curricula that infuses the arts throughout the core 'subject' curriculum, students learn to apply media awareness throughout their daily life.
Rise & Shine also runs several informal projects including:
1) The Family Video Workshop project brings together people of all ages (young and old) to produce their own cable programming that airs monthly on local access television. Families learn to discuss and critically process information received through the media while gaining the tools necessary to demystify and better deconstruct mainstream media messages. The videos produced by FVW participants have been extremely effective tools for direct social advocacy, for justice and specific community action while creating a constructive discourse around issues facing their children and families. The focus on intergenerational collaborations has had the additional benefit of successfully strengthening fragile family and community relationships.
2) Another project, The Real Deal, is an after-school and summer employment program where 50 students from diverse communities are trained to be media activists and artists with the social and academic support in place to ensure academic achievement, college preparation and leadership development. Samir Vural (1996), a youth producer for The Real Deal cable TV show, describes the project:
"Since 1991, when I was 14 years old, I have worked with scores of other teenagers researching, writing, storyboarding, directing and editing videos where we get a chance to manipulate media from our point of view, with images that counter the stereotypes of youth, race, class and gender. At Rise & Shine, we not only learn about cameras, editing and all the technical stuff, we also learn about society, our diverse history and cultures. We learn how to deconstruct the media, and how to develop our individual artistry through poetry and visual experimentation so we don't just copy what the mainstream does. We also give workshops to other youth, show our videos, discuss the issues, and strategize on how to act in our communities and how to critique and use mainstream media for ourselves."
Rise & Shine's experience indicates that the best way to become media literate and develop vital critical thinking skills is by putting the media directly in the hands of people.
Censorship vs. Freedom of Expression?
Faced with the massive proliferation of ‘vulgar’ images on satellite TV channels, violent national programming such as Shaktiman, addictive cigarette and alcohol advertising, irreverent plays such as Mee Nathuram Godse Botoi, and controversial films such as Fire, several groups in India are calling for solutions linked to censorship of the media. Traditionally, the State played the role of censor and citizens were the upholders of free speech. This role of the State continues, as exemplified by the recent amendments to the Cable Networks Regulation Act, in which the State is seeking to regulate foreign satellite channels by controlling programs shown by local cable operators. However, the role of the citizen is changing. It is becoming increasingly common for groups (usually religious fundamentalists but also secularists and Gandhians) to set themselves up as guardians of public morality and make proclamations on what should be seen, heard, or read.
Simultaneously, ‘freedom of expression’ advocates have tended to take an absolutist (and equally zealous) position against censorship. They see censorship as a slippery-slope issue - asking for some form of regulation means potentially strengthening the restrictive power of the State and opening up the floodgates to greater censorship in other domains. Also, there are those pesky questions such as who is to decide what is ‘pornography’ and what is ‘art’?
Such a situation places those of us who are worried with the socio-cultural and ideological implications of the global media (and lack of public accountability) -- but at the same time believe in freedom of expression and a minimum role for the State -- in a very awkward position. Which side should we take?
Perhaps, we need to start seeing the debate in another way. By casting the question in terms of censorship vs. freedom of expression, we limit our options to only these positions, thus cutting out all of the space for what might be called a middle ground that takes into account the complexities and contradictions of the debate. But it is this middle ground which allows 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 and cultural products. Those involved in education must think more creatively about how to develop democratic learning spaces that can build and strengthen this middle ground.
Is More Technology the Solution?
Due to changing lifestyles and lack of time, parents are not able to monitor and mediate the programs their children watch. Various 'technological solutions' have emerged to solve the problems associated with increased television viewing by children. Some of these 'band-aid' solutions include TV ratings systems (that classify programs according to viewer suitability) and the V-chip. The following excerpt, which discusses the V-Chip option, is from "Warning: Children Are Watching" in UNESCO’s Sources magazine (June 1998).
The "V-Chip" is a microchip which can be incorporated in a television set, cable selector or decoder. It can be programmed at certain levels to block the reception of images which have been digitally classified according to their level of violence. This means the viewer can programme the V-Chip to exclude all shows that exceed the level considered acceptable. For example, if the viewer selects level 3, then those above it will not appear on the screen. All new TV sets in the United States now have the chip built into their circuits. The European Parliament is also considering this option.
While in Europe many in the media industry have frowned on the chip as a censorship device, Professor George Gerbner at Temple University, Philadelphia, claims that far from being a hindrance, the chip acts as a cover for the industry. "It’s like the major polluters saying ‘we shall continue our profitable discharge into the common cultural environment, but don’t worry we’ll also see you gas masks to protect your children and have a free choice!’ Besides the cynical ploy that it really is, the evidence is that very few parents know or use the V-chip."
For Choy Arnaldo, UNESCO’s Chief of Free Flow of Information and Communication Research, the V-chip intrudes on private territory: "The chip tries to substitute for parental responsibility and in fact, it wouldn’t take any 12-year-old long to figure out how to reprogramme it or even pull it out of the television altogether, so I don’t really see this as a solution. Chips don’t raise children."
The V-chip at least has the merit of stimulating debate on the control of contentious information. According to Luis Albornoz at the University of Buenos Aires, the V-chip’s arrival has been a factor in private television stations deciding to stop broadcasting film trailers with violent images during the child protection time period (8am-10pm). The Argentine Association of Radio and Television Broadcasting stations has also adopted a ratings system for films outside that period. "We might wonder," Albornoz comments, "if this new regulation will prove effective in modifying a television reality in which viewer-ratings and lack of responsibility prevail, and in which audio-visual products are seen as mere marketing techniques to sell other products, and not as cultural assets which can and should be at our children’s service."
Mediating the Media:
Redefining the Role of Adults
The Just Think Foundation <http://www.justthink.org> was started to stimulate critical thinking about popular media. Just Think is based on the belief that a better understanding of the media surrounding us facilitates a better understanding of the society in which we live.
Today's media forces pull hard on young people. As adults, we have two choices: to set boundaries on what our kids are exposed to or to provide them with strategies to think for themselves. The former increases the proverbial generation gap; the latter becomes the nucleus for lifelong learning.
Just Think's teacher- and parent-directed programs teach adults about the key roles they can play in mediating young people's interaction with media. By encouraging the teachers and parents to access, evaluate, interpret and construct media in a variety of forms, Just Think provides the adults with tools to facilitate the critical-thinking process about the media in their own minds and the minds of youth alike.
Just Think's Professional Development Program for teachers provides a comprehensive overview of the ‘Developing Minds’ media literacy curriculum for schools, and uses a hands-on, constructivist approach to demonstrate how the curriculum can be integrated into various classes and content areas. The Professional Development Program begins with a two- to three-day seminar. Through the intensive program, educators gain better understanding of their students by probing the role media play in the lives of young people. After the intensive seminar, training continues through quarterly meetings, where participants are provided with current resources, and given the opportunity to exchange information about the hurdles and successes in implementing the media literacy curriculum in their classrooms.
For More Information:
Just Think Foundation
80 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 1, Sausalito, CA 94965
Phone: (415) 289-0122 Fax: (415) 289-0123
MEDIA LITERACY STARTS AT HOME
TV viewing is bringing about a major breakdown in family relationships by creating greater segregation between generations and individuals. Most parents in the U.S. spend an average of 1,000 minutes/week watching TV and only 38 minutes/week talking to their children.
There are a lot of simple things that you can do in your own home to promote media literacy with your children (adapted from the Just Think Foundation):
· Turn off the television during dinner. This will create an opportunity for family discussion during which you can take time to talk with your children about what's important to you and why you value certain ideals.
· Keep a viewing diary. Evaluate your family's television viewing time and see where you can balance and/or cut back on viewing. Aim to keep a balanced diet. What is the ratio of entertainment programs to educational programs?
· When watching television, make it a primary activity. When you watch television, really watch it. Avoid making television the backdrop for other activities.Don't use TV as a baby-sitter.
· Don't channel surf. This leads to unnecessary viewing. If you are having trouble finding something to watch, instead of watching, engage in alternative activities with your children.
· Avoid putting a television and computer in your child's room. A child with his or her own television gets the message that it's okay to view excessively and indiscriminately.
· Have your children read a book, then watch a movie or television adaption and discuss how they are different. This not only gets children thinking about media, but can also provide some insight as to the implications of different media. For example, why is a character not present in a book created for its screen version or viceversa?
· Encourage your children to think about their favorite shows. Why do they like them? Do they relate to the characters? Does the program represent real-life situations? Ask them to come up with alternate solutions to the conflicts presented in the program.
· Point out how media are constructed. Do your children pay attention to commercials? Do they often remember them more than the programs? What children usually do not realize is that media exist to attract audiences for advertisers and programming is designed to attract specific markets. The easiest way for children to begin understanding this is to have them pay attention to the types of commercials played during different programs. Why aren't there toy commercials during the evening news? Why are there so many ads for alcohol during sporting events?
· Recognize media stereotypes. Are they true? Are they false? Why? Have your children compare the people you see in the media with real-life people. Can they think of exceptions to the characterizations or portrayals they see?
· Keep up your familiarity with the programs, music, and video games your children are consuming. Chances are you won't find them as entertaining as your children do, but you'll have a much better understanding of how your children think, what they are interested in and the values they might be developing.
· Remember that you, not the television, are the master. The standard retort broadcasters use for programming with questionable content is that "If you don't like what's on, then just don't watch it."
You can begin these exercises as soon as your child becomes a media consumer (as early as age 2). The strategies suggested are great for guidance, but it's important to recognize your children's independence in making media decisions as they grow older. Remember, it's not about your controlling their choices, it's about teaching them to make more informed choices.
Integrating Media Literacy in Your Classroom
(Adapted from the Just Think Foundation)
· What is in the NEWS?
Take a look at how current events (world, national, state and local) are covered in the media. Get your students to analyze the variety of media messages on a particular current event each week. Help them sharpen their skills in distinguishing fact from opinion, positive from negative reporting, and various biases.
· LETTER CAMPAIGN to an Advertising Agency
Have students research and select several advertisements for analysis. Ask them to review and rate the ads, then write or email the advertising agency or company to share their impressions. Students can voice their opinion directly to the "minds behind the message."
· Monthly MEDIA WATCH!
Ask students to identify media images of various identifiable groups (women/men, youth, elderly, minorities, rural/urban, etc.) and bring in several examples from magazines, films, TV, bumper stickers, newspapers, billboards, etc., for classroom analysis. What are the prevailing media messages surrounding and reinforcing stereotypes? What, if any, are the alternatives to these prevailing images?
Towards a Strategy for Challenging the Media
The Cultural Environment Movement <www.cemnet.org> was launched in 1996 in response to the global media conglomerate. Comprised of diverse leaders and activists in the field of culture, communication, and democracy from 64 countries around the world, CEM’s agenda involves:
Building a new coalition involving teachers, students and parents; groups concerned with children and aging; women's groups; religious and minority organizations; health, environmental, legal, and other professional associations; consumer groups and agencies; associations of creative workers; independent computer network organizers and other organizations committed to freedom and diversity of communication.
Opposing domination and working to abolish existing concentration of ownership and censorship (both of and by media), public or private. This involves extending rights, facilities, and influence to interests and perspectives other than the most powerful and profitable. It means including in cultural decision-making the less affluent vulnerable groups who, in fact, are the majority of the population. These include the exploited, poor, physically/mentally disabled, young and old, women, and minorities.
Seeking out and cooperating with cultural liberation forces in different countries working for the integrity and independence of their own decision-making and against cultural domination and invasion. Learning from countries that have already opened their media to the democratic process. Helping local movements in different countries to invest in their own cultural development; opposing aggressive foreign ownership and coercive trade policies that make such development more difficult.
Supporting journalists, artists, writers, actors, directors, and other creative workers struggling for more freedom from having to present life as a commodity designed for a market of consumers.
Promoting media awareness, critical viewing, and other media education efforts as an essential educational objective. Collecting and disseminating information and research about relevant programs, curricula, and teaching materials. Organizing parents' groups demanding pre-service and in-service teacher training in critical media analysis.
Placing cultural policy issues on the social-political agenda. Supporting and organizing local and national media councils, study groups, citizen groups, and other forums of public discussion for policy development, and action. Not waiting for a blueprint but creating and experimenting with different ways of citizen participation in local, national and international media policy-making.
And Closer to Home…
Among the South Asian organizations consciously and creatively trying to develop critical media awareness materials for different learning contexts is:
The Unit for Media & Communications, Tata Institute of Social Sciences . . .
The UMC is engaged in media production, teaching, research and dissemination. Through its programs of production, research and teaching, the Unit has been working towards a critical perspective on development and the media. The Unit's research, both past and on-going, has focused on audience reception studies of satellite television and popular cinema in the Indian context. UMC has also produced several video documentaries -- Identity: The Construction of Selfhood and The Plot Thickens... - that facilitate a critical analysis of the media.
The Unit also conducts media education programs, on request, including:
* Critical Approaches to Image Making -- this module explores cultural studies approaches to the media, using media artifacts such as TV commercials and print media, to critically examine how the media reproduces dominant relations of power. The focus is on the theoretical developments within structuralism and post-structuralism that underpin these strategies. The module explores the work of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Lacan and Foucault.
* Re-reading the Media -- explores the potential of critical education to question not only the media and its agenda, but also the dominant relations of power that it reproduces, be they of gender,class or race. Based on several years of teaching experience with a range of groups -- from undergraduate and post-graduate students to college teachers to activists -- this course attempts to present practice-based strategies for critical analysis of media artifacts.
Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, Unit for Media & Communications,
Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar,
Mumbai 400 088, INDIA
Tel: + 22-556 3289 to 96 Fax: + 22-556 2912
Further reading and resources--
Annenberg Media Public Policy Center
Newswatch: A Consumer's Guide to the News
The Media Awareness Network
The Media Literacy On-Line Project
Articles and Books
Barber, B. (1996). Jihad vs. McWorld. New York: Ballatine.
Black, K. (1989). KidVid: Fundamentals of Video Instruction. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press.
Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Boston: Pantheon Books.
Giroux, H. (1992). Border Crossings: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education. New York: Routledge.
Joseph, A. and K. Sharma (eds.) (1994). Whose News?: The Media and Women's Issues. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Mander, J. (1991). In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Yonah Rosen, E. et al. (1998). Changing the World Through Media Education. CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
Voices: A Journal on Communication for Development. Madyam Communications. Post Box 4610, 59 Miller Road, Benson Town, Bangalore 560046. Fax: 91-80-5303403.
For Some Great Videos on Media Education:
Media Education Foundation, 26 Center Street,
Northampton, MA 01060 (USA); Tel: (413) 586-4170 <http://www.igc.org/mef/>