Media literacy is the process of critically analyzing media messages and the ability to compose messages using media tools and technologies. Media literacy is defined as an extended conceptualization of literacy, the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms. The term access generally means the ability to locate information or find messages and to be able to comprehend and interpret a message’s meaning. The term analysis refers to the process of recognizing and examining the author’s purpose, target audience, construction techniques, symbol systems, and technologies used to construct the message. The concept of analysis also includes the ability to appreciate the political, economic, social, and historical context in which media messages are produced and circulated as part of a cultural system. Evaluation refers to the process of assessing the veracity, authenticity, creativity, or other qualities of a media message, making judgments about a message’s worth or value. Finally, the definition of media literacy includes the ability to communicate messages in a wide variety of forms (using language, photography, video, online media, etc.).
Media literacy emphasizes the ability to use production processes to compose and create messages using various symbol systems and technology tools. In recent years, media literacy has also been described as an expanded conceptualization of literacy, a view that many literacy educators embrace. Media literacy is primarily conceptualized as a learning outcome within an educational framework that aims to give children and young people opportunities to learn about mass media, popular culture, and communication technologies. Media literacy education and media education are terms used to refer to the pedagogical processes used to develop media literacy.
Because there are many different types of genres and formats within specific media and communication technologies, media literacy programs may address these specific forms directly. For example, media literacy programs have included a focus on critical analysis of newspapers and television news, print and TV advertising, magazines, popular music, contemporary film, and participatory media such as video games and the Internet. Many media literacy advocates and educators make use of a unifying framework: key concepts or questions that identify the central ideas associated with media literacy learning. The key concepts can be explored with children of different ages and with different types of media messages. These include the following:
1. Messages are constructions. The media do not present simple reflections of external reality. Rather, media messages are carefully crafted constructions that are the result of many decisions and determining factors.
2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules. Individual media messages can be recognized within specific genres (like cartoons, news, advertising, romance, horror, biography). Media messages make use of symbol systems and codes and conventions that can be verbal, visual, auditory, musical, narrative, or digital. For example, in narrative films for children, the bumbling or evil adult is a character stereotype that is commonly used in creating conflict.
3. Audiences actively interpret messages. People construct meaning as they consume media messages. Message interpretation varies according to individual factors such as developmental level, personal needs and anxieties, situational factors, racial and sexual attitudes, and family and cultural backgrounds.
4. Media have embedded values and points of view. Explicitly or implicitly, media express ideological messages about issues such as human nature, social roles, authority and power, and the distribution of resources. Media messages provide the majority of the observations and experiences that people use to develop personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of people’s sense of reality is based on media messages that contain representations that have been specifically constructed to embody points of view, attitudes, and values.
5. Media have commercial implications and exist within an economic context. Media literacy aims to encourage an awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how economics and power affect message content, production techniques, and distribution. Many media products that children and young people consume are created as part of global business interests. Questions of ownership and control are important because a relatively small number of individuals decide what others watch, read, and hear in the media.