Media Literacy is the ability to critically evaluate media messages – so that one can discern the agenda and the purpose of the media message. In a world of paid media, advertiser funded content, it is difficult to discern what is fact and what is not. Media literacy aims to provide the student with some of the critical evaluation techniques of understanding media images, and media content.
This unit aims at allowing students to what the media is, what mass is, and how the media uses stereotypes – be they cultural, political, gender – to represent issues.
Understand the need for media literacy
Be able to understand what mass media and mass culture
Understand Audience theories
Understand Propaganda and its uses
Understand Media ownership and how it matters
Understand Media representation
1. Introduction to Media Literacy (2)
2. Introduction to Mass Media (6)
3. Audience Theories (6) 4. Media Ownership (2)
5. Media Representation (6)
6. Media & Violence (2)
Overview of Chapters
In Chapter 1 – Overview to Media Literacy – students are introduced to the concept of media literacy and why it is important for us to be aware of the media
In Chapter 2 – introduction to Mass Media – the student is introduced to various concepts of mass media – such as mass, mass audience, mass culture and how the media tries to communicate to all sections of society simultaneously
In chapter 3 – Audience Theories – the student is introduced to various audience theories and how they evolved as well as documentaries and films that underline these theories
In chapter 4 – Media Ownership – the student is introduced to ownership patterns in the media and how they are important
In chapter 5 – Media Representation – the student is introduced to how the media represents various facets of society and what the consequences of this representation are.
In Chapter 6 – Media & Violence – the student is introduced to how the media depicts violence and the consequences of this representation .
Introduction to Media Literacy
We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with images, views, opinions, lifestyle, consumption patterns, trends and more. For most of us, a life without the media would we unthinkable. We catch news on TV, read opinions in the paper, use TV for entertainment, surf the net to check out the latest in everything, make friends on Facebook, tweet our opinions, use our blackberry to stay connected, upload videos, share files. The list is endless. The Media seems to be everywhere and manages to pervade every part of our life.
But, it is not just because it is ubiquitous that we are interested in the media – but, the fact that it influences – to a greater or lesser degree – our actions, our opinions, or perceptions and our world view. Our understanding of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’, ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’; ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘patriotism’, culture, history, tradition, are all influenced and shaped by the media.
Therefore, as citizens and as media practitioners it is important for us to understand certain very basic aspects of the media – such as ownership, agenda, and interest – so that we are able to discern the messages that the media puts out, enabling us to make better and more informed decisions. This awareness of the media is called Media Literacy .
The Media Awareness Network1 defines Media Literacy as
Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media— from music videos and Web environments to product placement in films and virtual displays on bill boards. It's about asking pertinent questions about what's there, and noticing what's not there. And it's the instinct to question what lies behind media productions— the motives, the money, the values and the ownership— and to be aware of how these factors influence content.
At the core of being ‘media literate’ is understanding and internalizing that :
messages are created differently for different media, keeping in mind the characteristics and strengths of each medium – take for example the commonwealth games – if television media wishes to tell you about the delays in the games – it will show you unfinished construction. If the print media wants to tell you about the delays – it will give you a table with promised delivery, current status and how long it will take to complete a project.
Media messages are created for a particular purpose. For example, the purpose of a fair and lovely commercial is to sell the product – not increase confidence; similarly – breaking news is not about anything urgent, but created to keep you hooked to the TV set.
People tend to view the same piece of content differently. For example, for some, the movie Dabaang was great entertainment, others viewed it as flawed story telling
There is no such thing as unbiased communication. The message carries the biases of the creator or funder of the message.
Media messages can influence behavior, belief, attitudes, and values.
Given the role that it plays in society and in our everyday lives, it is important to study the media and how it works. Studying the media involves the detailed analysis of the images, sounds and text that we experience via the media. It is the study of individual media texts (such as movies, TV shows, magazines, websites) and asking some key questions:
Who made them ("institution")?
How they were made ("process")?
Why they were made ("purpose")?
Who they were made for ("audience")?
What rules were followed when making them ("conventions" and "genre")?
Watch the Hindi feature film “Peepli Live” and have a class discussion on the role of media in shaping opinions.
Research On-line the reasons why a farmer commits suicide and compare that with the reasons put forward in “Peepli Live”
Introduction to Mass Media
To be media literate, it is important to understand the nature of the media and its impact on audiences. The study of media is a new discipline – less than a century old. That is because, media itself became mass – only about a 100 or so years ago.
In the last 100 years or so the role of Mass Media has been very important and influential in every day life. That is because it is :
All pervasive – impacts every aspect of our lives
Inclusive – includes all aspects of society. For example, the role of media in depicting various parts of India as parts of the whole.
Socialiser – tells us about acceptable modes of behaviour and unacceptable modes of behaviour. For example, the role of media in encouraging people to give polio vaccines to children.
Influencer – influences behaviour. For example, the role of media in encouraging people not to drink and drive.
Aspiration Driver – For example, the role of media in encouraging consumption patterns such as the use of microwaves or modular kitchens.
Awareness Creator/ Informer – for example, the role of media in propagating spread of information – be it news or current affairs or government policies
Education – the role of media in spreading education
Before we get down to understanding how to understand and deconstruct media messages, we need to understand some basics – including what is the media, what are audiences, what are the various theories that are used to look at both the media and audiences.
What is the Media?
'The media' refers to the different channels we use to communicate information in the everyday world. 'Media' is the plural of medium (of communication), and the main media are
And the main content forms on this media are
Canned Fiction Entertainment
Canned Non Fiction entertainment
The media is essentially the amalgamation of content and technology that allow a set of people to communicate with another. This communication can be:
Between individuals – one to one or peer to peer. For example a phone call.
Between organisations – business to business. For example a corporate film
Between organisations & individuals – business to consumer for example advertising or a feature film or a TV programme or a newspaper.
When we study the media, as media practitioners, what we are interested in is:
What do people consume in terms of media?
Why do they consume it?
What do they do after they consume it?
What are the consequences of that action?
What is the role of media in our life?
Look at last Sunday’s issue of Times of India and make a list of all advertisements in the paper. Note down which of these are between individuals, between organisations and between organisations and individuals.
What is Media Studies? Media Studies is the study of what is media composed of and how it affects the audience. It employs theories and methods from a number of fields of study including communication, sociology, social theory, literature, literary theory, political economy, film/video studies, cultural studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, design, history, politics, information theory, and economics.
Media Studies focuses on the Mass Media - their political, social, economic and cultural role and impact in creating and distributing content to media audiences.
Key concepts in Media Studies include:
Media audiences Who is watching? How audiences are identified, constructed, addressed and reached; how audiences find, choose, consume and respond to media texts.
Media technologies How is it produced? What kinds of technologies are available to whom, how to use them, the differences they make to the production process as well as the final product.
Media agencies/ ownership - who makes /owns what? Who produces the text; roles in production process, media institutions, economics and ideologies, intentions and results. Media languages How do they convey meaning? How the media produces meanings; codes and conventions; narrative structure.
Media categories What is it? Different media (television, radio, cinema etc); forms (documentary, advertising etc); genres, other ways of categorising text; how categorisation relates to understanding. Media representationHow are things, places and people portrayed in the media? The relation between media texts and the actual places, people, events, ideas; stereotyping and its consequences.
Watch half an hour of Television this evening. Note down the advertising during that half an hour. And, write down the answers to the key questions listed above for each piece of advertising.
Key Concepts in Studying the Media
The single most important concept – when we study the media – is the concept of “Mass”. Be it mass society, mass culture, mass media or mass audiences. The concept of mass is associated with a modern world. It is differentiated from earlier types of society – called traditional society.
Before we look at the concept of “Mass” – especially with reference to audiences & media – it is important for us to understand the following.
The term traditional, in this context, is used to describe pre-industrial society and their interrelationship.
Community based. Usually within a specific geographic space – usually symbolized by shared traditions, cultures, values and language. It is Denoted by a lack of individual privacy, and a feeling of “social good”. For example, think of a small village where everyone knows the other person.
A set of cultural values and ideas that are shared by the community.
Traditional media of transmission of message
In traditional society messages were communicated through stories, folk lore, myths, and legends, through song and dance, verse and prose, philosophy and drama. Usually storytellers and bards told these. It was through word of mouth and adapted from culture to culture.
Watch the film “Seven Samurai” in class– by Akira Kurosawa and follow this up with a discussion based around the nature of traditional society – including concepts of hierarchy, honour and ‘societal good’.
Read this article on the different types of Ramayan and appreciate how the same story changed from region to region and culture to culture.
Until a century ago, media was elite in nature. Small groups of publishers – for only print technology existed – published material for small groups of readers, who would mostly agree with those views. The publishers were among the elite as were the readers. The spread of media penetration was restricted by lack of mass literacy.
However, when education became compulsory – media owners realized that there was more profit to be made from attracting the newly educated lower classes, than the elite who were far fewer in number.
The publishers that appealed to this audience – as opposed to the elite audience – were called mass media and the audiences were called mass audiences. Both terms were used in a derogatory manner. The term “mass” had negative connotations. Mass as in the multitudes or common people. Uneducated, ignorant and potentially irrational, unruly and even violent. The concept of Mass involved:
The Oxford English Dictionary, in fact, defined mass as as an “aggregate in which individuality is lost”
However, this attitude towards the term “Mass” changed in the post First World War (1914-1919) era, when the world began seeing many mass movements including the Russian Revolution, the Trade Union Movement, the Indian Independence Movement, the Movement towards empowerment of women, and so on. The power of the ‘mass’ began to be recognized by media owners and a new era of communication was born. The term ‘mass communication’ and ‘mass media’ came into use in the 1930’s.
The term Mass, in this context, is used for industrial and modern society – that is more urbanized, where social ties are looser and where there is a high degree of individualism and anonymity.
The term Mass Society refers to a society with a mass culture and large-scale, impersonal, social institutions. Given that the most complex and modern societies have lively primary - family, friends, groups et al - social relationships, the concept of mass society can be thought of as an "ideal type", since it does not exist in reality. However, the term is designed to draw attention to the way in which life in complex societies, with great specialization and rationalized institutions, can become too anonymous and impersonal and fail to support adequate bonds between the individual and the community.
Mass Culture Mass culture is a set of cultural values, ideas, forms of practise that arise from the exposure of a population to the same cultural activities, communications media, music and art, etc. For example, in India traditionally the Sangeet was part of North Indian culture – more specifically Punjabi culture. It was a woman’s festival which aimed to tell a young girl who was getting married on what to expect from marriage. Mass culture’s depiction of the wedding sangeet – has turned it into an all India phenomenon where people of both genders participate.
Mere haaton mein nau nau chudiyaan hai –from Chandini
Mehendi sajaake rakhna – from Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge
And, talk to people from the senior generation (60+) from the Punjabi community on what Sangeet traditionally was.
Mass culture becomes possible with modern communications and electronic media. A mass culture is transmitted to individuals, rather than arising from people's daily interactions, and therefore lacks the distinctive content of cultures rooted in community and region. Mass culture fosters the view of the viewer as consumer and an individual.
Mass media to transmit message
The mass media is that media (radio, television, newspapers, etc) which are targeted at the mass rather than at specific groups or communities.
The difference between folk (traditional) and mass culture Folk Culture grew from below. It was spontaneous…expression of people, shared by themselves…to suit their own needs. Mass culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen; its audiences are passive consumers, their participation limited to the choice between buying and not buying…it is a debased, trivial culture that voids both the deep realities (sex, death, failure and tragedy) and also make the simple, spontaneous pleasures: Macdonald, 1957, Introduction: The Dangers of Mass Culture
Mass Media Technologies
One of the biggest differences between traditional modes of communication and mass communication is how the latter allows the same message to be delivered to a large mass of people – audience – simultaneously.
In the modern world, while, the scale and operations of the mass media vary - some people watch a film in a village tent or on a movable screen, and others in multiplexes. Some watch TV on 29” plasma screens, yet others on community TV sets – there are certain basic core attributes of the mass media
They derive from technologies of mass reproduction and distribution and certain forms of organization. The movie that you watch in a theatre in Mumbai is identical to the same movie someone else watches in Delhi
They are designed to reach the Many – on an average; a TV serial in India ,on an entertainment channel – is watched by millions of viewers.
Potential audiences are viewed as large aggregates of more or less anonymous consumers and the relationship between the sender and the receiver is influenced by this fact. for example, two people who watch a show in a Nashik and a Gurgaon – don’t necessarily have any connection with each other.
The sender is often the organization itself or a professional communicator – almost all shows, film and news are produced by companies or professionally trained media practitioners.
If not this, it is another voice of society given or sold access to the media – advertisers, politicians, religious leaders, NGO’s etc.
Herbert Blumer (1939) defined the mass as a new type of social formation in modern society, by contrasting it with other formations – especially the group, crowd and public. He said:
Groups are small – most people know each other. There are common shared values, certain structure of relationship that is stable over time. The group interacts with each other to achieve some purpose. For example, a film appreciation group.
Crowds are larger but still restricted within observable boundaries in a particular space. It is however temporary and seldom reforms with the same composition. It exhibits a high degree of identity and shares the same ‘mood’, but there is no structure or order to its moral and social composition. It can act, but its actions are often seen to have an affective, emotional and often irrational character. For example the crowd in a railway station.
Public is relatively large, widely dispersed and enduring. It tends to form around an issue or cause in public life, with its primary purpose to advance an interest or opinion and to achieve political change. It is an essential part of democratic societies. For example, the public that came together to campaign for justice for Jesicca Lall.
And finally, the Mass. The mass audience is widely dispersed, its members not known to each other or even those who brought the audience into existence. It lacks self awareness and self identity and was incapable of acting together in an organized way to secure objectives. It is marked by shifting composition within changing boundaries. It does not act for itself, but is acted upon – therefore subject to manipulation. It is heterogenous – consisting of large numbers from all social strata and demographic groups. But, it is also homogenous in its choice of some particular object of interest to the perception of those who would like to manipulate it. For example, the mass audience response to Dabaang.
Watch “Dabaang” and Amar Akbar Anthony – and discuss the elements that made the films mass entertainment.
Audience Theories When we study the media – it is important to understand the theoretical constructs that underpin the discipline. Most of these discuss the impact of media communication on audiences. While we may never be called upon to sell a show or make a film on the basis of these theories, understanding them and appreciating them would enable us to make a better show or a better film.
The reason we study the media in close detail, is because of the impact that it has on audiences. Therefore it is hardly surprising that the early theories looked at how media impacts or effects audiences. These theories are called “Media Effects Theories” or Audience Theories. These theories seek to understand how audiences respond & react to media messages.
Hypodermic Theory or the Magic Bullet Theory
One of the first major theories of the impact of mass media on audiences was The Hypodermic Needle Theory or the Magic Bullet Theory. Postulated in the early 1920’s this theory believed that the media was all powerful and had a similar direct effect on audiences.
According to this mediaeffects theory viewers are passive, and directly affected by what they consume in the media and accept the message that they read, hear or see without considering whether the message has any merit or not. In other words, the media content is shot at the audience like a magic bullet and it directly penetrates the viewer’s mind and changes it. The supporters of this theory believed the media could shape public opinion and persuade the masses toward any desired point of view. In this way messages strike all members of the audience equally causing a uniform thinking among them.