Inform and empower: media literacy in the 21st century report of Seminar organised by the uk film Council with the British Film Institute, Channel 4 and the bbc

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Report of Seminar

organised by the UK Film Council with the British Film Institute, Channel 4 and the BBC
Media Literacy at the dawn of the 21st century is about encouraging a more flexible and critical mind. A more flexible and critical mind creates a better citizen, a better human being.

Bonnie Greer

BAFTA, London 27 January 2004

1. Background and context
In the summer of 2003 Channel 4 and the UK Film Council both recognised the need to respond proactively to the provisions in the new Communications Bill in relation to media literacy. Ofcom was soon to be established as the new regulatory body for Communications with the duty assigned to it under the Communications Act 2003 (Section 11) ‘to promote Media Literacy’. This duty was, however, defined in the Act in a way which stressed the role of media technologies and the protection of the consumer rather than the more critical and celebratory definitions and possibilities which could also be associated with the use of new technologies.
Channel 4 and the UK Film Council, both actively involved with moving image culture as well as the technologies of production and delivery, believed that first and foremost media literacy was a matter of freeing the consumer’s intellect and imagination and enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to gain a more creative and informed access to the media.

Working, therefore, with its principal education delivery partner, the British Film Institute (bfi), the UK Film Council and Channel 4 – later with the full co-operation and involvement of the BBC – (‘the organisers’) decided to stage a seminar which would aim to move forward the media literacy debate in government, industry and education. Early on, the organisers drew up a ‘Statement’ concerning media literacy as the basis for discussion (see Appendix 1).

The report that follows is a summary of the Seminar which was the first result of the organisers’ joint commitment to media literacy and which was presented on 27 January 2004 (see Appendix 2 for the day’s schedule of events and Appendix 3 which outlines the Interactive Exhibition). The Seminar was addressed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and involved a wide range of some two hundred delegates from Government, Ofcom, industry, education, media arts organisations and others (see Appendix 4).
The day was hosted by the broadcaster and writer Bonnie Greer and opened with a welcome address by Sir Alan Parker CBE, Chair of the UK Film Council.

2. Welcome address by Sir Alan Parker CBE
Sir Alan said he was pleased to see such an excellent attendance and extremely broad range of interests represented. He explained that the event had been put together by the UK Film Council, the British Film Institute, Channel 4 and the BBC with input from others including Ofcom. This was, in his view, a formidable partnership and absolutely right for the huge task ahead.
He went on to say that nowadays we were bombarded with images of all kinds. Once it had just been from our cinema screens and a handful of channels on our television sets. Now the images came from cinema, DVDs, hundreds of television channels, games consoles, computers, mobile phones and even handheld devices.
He continued that the moving image was every bit as powerful and influential as the printed word. Arguably, more so, much more so. Whether it was a feature film or the Ten O’Clock News, a reality show or an animated short, images confronted us at every turn and shaped our view of the world.

Moreover, while no one would ever question the value of gaining a better understanding of the ways in which literature or print media shape our views of the world around us, much less attention was paid to the role of moving images. He hoped that the Seminar would help to change that.

He thought that unless people right across the UK had the opportunity to understand better the ways in which images could be played with, manipulated, and used to impress particular views of the world upon us, then we ran the risk that our ability to understand and appreciate the world about us would be much diminished.
He concluded by saying that the Seminar was about addressing the challenges that all this presents and coming up with some practical actions to help ensure that everyone in the UK had the opportunity to learn more about the power and influence of moving images, and to enjoy the richness of them in all their diversity.
There then followed the first of three short films produced by Dr Julian Sefton-Green, Principal of WAC Performing Arts and Media College, and directed by two of its students, Michael Troxell and Leo Baker.
Vox Pop 1: What I like about the media
The first of three engaging short films in which a group of children, young people and adults from a variety of backgrounds and cultures – all involved in some form of media study or production – spoke about what films and television programmes they liked and why. Favourites included EastEnders and The Simpsons (“I like Homer because he’s stupid and he doesn’t really know how to be a parent… and he is one!”), drama, wildlife programmes and current affairs. Films included Bruce Almighty (…it’ll make you laugh when you are in a bad mood”), Training Day (“…’cos the black man doesn’t die ‘til the end”), The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and “…any movies that would really scare the crap out of me.”
3. Session One: ‘Education and the Media: Friends or Foes?’

Chair: Peter Bazalgette, Endemol, with actor and writer Meera Syal; Bethan Marshall, Kings College London; and Steve Woolley, film producer.

The session opened with a lively and wide-ranging on-stage discussion which established that ‘critical awareness’ was the key to media literacy. It was not just a question of media studies but of resourcing individuals in their own lives and as citizens to be more engaged, creative and fulfilled. Bethan Marshall argued that it was not a case of talking about ‘Education’ and the ‘Media’ in terms of an ‘either/or’, as friends or foes, but rather about ‘Education and the Media’ full stop. There was a need and an opportunity for ‘Education and the Media’ to conjoin to help underpin a media literate society.
Enjoyment and pleasure as well as notions of being ‘well-read’ were stressed as much as technical competence. The importance of creating opportunities for critical choice rather than curtailing choice through enforcement measures was discussed – especially since there was often an overemphasis on technical skills and know-how by the public sector. Industry and its talent had a role here in acting as public advocates for media literacy.
It was thought that there was a real need to value informal learning as well as learning taking place in the classroom, especially since there was a clear relationship between media literacy and active citizenship at all ages. Educators, therefore, in all contexts needed to be better equipped themselves to impart media literacy skills. Broadcasters and others could play a key role here in strengthening their programming to encourage critical understanding.
It was not a question of developing skills for use in a vocational context, or for jobs in the media, but rather of giving all citizens basic skills so that they could pursue their life choices more creatively and effectively.

4. Session Two: ‘Media Users: Gullible, Geeky or Gifted?’

Chair: Andrea Millwood-Hargrave, formerly from the Broadcasting Standards Commission, with Janice Hughes, Spectrum Strategy Consultants; David Buckingham, The Institute of Education, London University; Clive Gilman, Film, Art and Creative Technology (FACT); and Sian Kevill, BBC World.

This session was preceded by the second film made by students at the WAC Performing Arts and Media College.
Vox Pop 2: What I don’t like about the media and how I deal with it
This second of three films looked at what media users didn’t like. Comments included, “I don’t watch horror movies… Why would you want to scare yourself?” Others were disturbed by cigarette adverts, too much sex, reality programmes, “the news and all that ‘cos I think it’s very boring”, advertising and even Coronation Street. “I think horse racing is too, too boring” said one; a very young boy disliked The Thimbles “’cos they’re for babies” while a mature man thought that “programmes where people get rich suddenly… must be very hard for those who are poor”. Lively, amusing and perceptive, the film revealed a level of understanding that some delegates might not necessarily have expected.
The session continued with a presentation by Janice Hughes of Spectrum Strategy Consultants (See Appendix 5).
In her presentation Janice Hughes explored the changing world of media consumption, the new home entertainment hub, the issue of the threat of piracy and the importance of preventing a ‘digital divide’.

She outlined how new consumption patterns were evolving and how traditional media are ‘losing out’ to new media. She saw evidence of consumers wanting to be entertained ‘interactively’ – for example organising, commenting on and sharing content. Subscription entertainment was on the increase and DVDs were evolving to become complete home entertainment systems. As she pointed out, whoever controls the home gateway will be the winner of the future and speculated that the winning product/service would be a broadband-enabled on-demand home entertainment system.

Piracy was a considerable threat, she suggested, though some providers were fighting back, like Disney, with its own direct distribution channel. An even wider challenge was to use new technology to bridge the international digital divide. At a local and regional level in the UK this was already happening with young people encouraging their parents to get online.

She concluded that media users were not ‘gullible’ because they were taking back control; neither ‘geeky’, unless ‘geeky’ now meant everyone and it was no longer a case of having to be especially ‘gifted’ to use the media since easier interfaces were now enabling everyone to interact. Quite simply, she said, ‘this is the future and the future is now!’.

The discussion that followed drew on the presentation and on the Vox Pops and emphasised the role of education and access in developing a world in which use of the media was informed, creative and productive. Many of the key issues raised in Session One were returned to here.
Media literacy was as much about practical production skills as it was about critical viewing skills. Young peoples’ viewing skills and choices were already extremely sophisticated. What was needed was a connection between these skills and an understanding of intellectual property in new media which could help combat piracy. It was also argued that piracy was, nonetheless, being used creatively and that more imaginative responses to users’ needs might also be explored. Intellectual property regimes and the relationship between intellectual property rights and education must be re-calibrated for the digital age.

Very soon there would be a considerable increase in the range of choices, both in entertainment and commerce, for consumers. Media literacy skills would, therefore, not simply be an option but an essential life-skill for full participation in contemporary society. Clearly, teachers needed their own skills upgrading and media literacy skills needed to be embedded in teacher training. It was emphasised that Government, particularly the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), needed to join up with the regulators and the industry to tackle this growing skills deficit. Industry also needed to address this issue if the film and moving-image sectors were to remain vibrant and profitable in a global 21st century context.

In the questions from delegates that followed, a number of these issues were explored further while Penny Beschizza, Chair of the Deaf Broadcasting Council, made the point that broadcasters and filmmakers have a responsibility to make people with disabilities more visible and to show a more diverse range of role models.
5. Session Three: Keynote Speech by The Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Mark Thompson, the Chief Executive Officer of Channel 4, then introduced the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell, MP, and underlined the channel’s commitment to media literacy. Before the Minister spoke, there was the third and final film made by students at the WAC Performing Arts and Media College.
Vox Pop 3: What the media might be
Strong views were expressed ranging from a desire for more documentaries, rather than for ‘reality TV’, that there should be more positive representation of black people and that there should be more programmes which explore different cultures and the way people communicate at greater depth.
Some thought that there should be a black TV channel, or at least that some of the rich talent around ‘underground’ should be given a more visible ‘voice’. Given a chance to make a programme or film, some would explore ‘youth culture’: ‘the fact of being young’, or simply “about us, because people don’t take us seriously”.

As to the future, some were pessimistic, especially about a proliferation of channels offering the same as today – or worse – although another person pointed out shrewdly that “it depends who actually is controlling the media at that time”.

Summary of the Keynote Speech by The Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Tessa Jowell, MP, Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, in a wide-ranging and incisive speech, set out an agenda expressing the need for media literacy skills in the context of contemporary society both in formal and informal education.
Whilst it might now be necessary to justify the case for media literacy in the face of criticism and even parody from some quarters, she argued, in five years’ time ‘it will be just another given’. She stressed that, although it was important that people understood new technologies and their potential, ‘it is the content delivered to people that matters’. What was needed was ‘active, informed consumers, able to take decisions for themselves and their families based on judgement and understanding’.
She pointed out that ‘consumers’ were more than that: they were also citizens and therefore they needed ‘to have an understanding of the world around them and how to engage with it’. Having a society with media literate citizens was as important today as having citizens with reading or numeracy skills. Advertising, the debate about Europe, and the influence of corporate ownership on the attitudes and opinions of the media were all issues that every citizen needed to be informed about.

She concluded by setting out some significant next steps for discussions and for decision making during the day. Media literacy must embrace all media she argued; education was to be understood as both formal and informal; research and analysis of people’s opinions and needs should be taken into account in the development of policy in this area; and finally that regulators and industry should work effectively together. The prize was ‘a country of engaged citizens and wise consumers’. ‘We have to create it; it won’t happen by itself’ was the final challenge to the Seminar put down by the Minister.

To read the full text of the Keynote Speech by The Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell, MP, see
This session concluded with a showreel.
6. Showreel of Media Literacy in practice
This showreel of examples of Media Literacy work already undertaken by the organisers, ITV and First Light, demonstrated a number of the wide and imaginative initiatives already in place which were to inform the Task Group discussions that followed.
ITV showcased a diverse variety of new internet users explaining how their use of the world wide web had extended their choices for communication, study, access to information and employment opportunities.
The BBC presented a taster of the very wide range of media skills and access resources that they provided through broadcasting, local services and travelling roadshows. News On Tour aimed to stimulate interest in, and understanding about news, through an opportunity to make it themselves, while BBC Wales enabled young people to make and edit a short film on a laptop and so develop their creative skills.
Channel 4 used a key moment from their programme What is this Channel 4? – when Alastair Campbell at the time of the Hutton Enquiry arrived unexpectedly in their studios for an interview. It showed the exciting process of making news in ‘real time’. This was followed by the award-winning and witty E4 Viewers Compliance Guide which explained to viewers why some moments from Big Brother had to be edited out for legal reasons.

First Light’s film set out the range of media literacy skills which young people involved in this UK Film Council initiative might learn, including increased understanding of how films were made – particularly at the editing stage – how images and sound convey meaning and how aesthetic choices change the final result: all of which encourage a critical approach to films and media.

Finally, the bfi showed how its development of teaching and learning about the moving image in a variety of publications in print, online and on DVD together with other initiatives – such as teacher-training, live education events, The Times bfi London Film Festival and research – all contributed to a wider and deeper understanding of ‘the bigger picture’ of 21st century media.
7. Session Four: Task Group discussions
There then followed six Task Group discussions covering major areas of debate in relation to media regulation and media literacy – access, definition, implementation and resourcing – where delegates divided into six groups to tease out issues in greater depth and report back with key conclusions and challenges.
Task Group 1: Media Literacy for all?
Chair: Ian Kearns, Institute of Public Policy Research, with Jonathan Davis, UK Film Council.
The Chair introduced the session stating the Group’s brief was wide-ranging and in his view required discussion of the following key questions:

  • What is Media Literacy?

  • Why is it important?

  • Is it for everyone?

  • How can it be promoted?

  • Whose job should it be?

The debate opened with a discussion on where Media Literacy should be placed within the National Curriculum. Although some believed it should sit alongside reading, writing and arithmetic no one had yet been able to make a satisfactory case for its inclusion as a subject in its own right. It was felt that Media Literacy would be seen as important as reading and writing in say, 10-15 years’ time, and that its importance would become more and more obvious. It was the shift from analogue to digital communications technology which had really sparked off this more recent debate since the means of production and consumption had become much more accessible to all.

It was pointed out that the UK still has a basic skills problem in that seven million people are illiterate. In this context it was easy for opponents to the introduction of Media Literacy to the National Curriculum to scorn subjects like Media Studies. The Curriculum was already very crowded. It was noted firmly that Media Literacy and Media Studies were not the same thing. The Chair reiterated the need to identify exactly what the term meant. The Secretary of State’s speech seemed to imply a much broader definition than the Communications Act definition and included print media.
There followed a debate on whether or not Media Literacy needed to be divided up into component parts and ‘bolted on’ to the National Curriculum e.g. filmmaking, copyright, interpretation/’reading’ moving images, etc. The group was fortunate to have participants from Northern Ireland who had succeeded in getting a pilot Media Literacy component into their National Curriculum. They emphasised that ‘bolt-ons’ were to be avoided and that the subject really needed to be embedded and introduced from Key Stage One, i.e. age four.
The Northern Ireland experience was briefly presented. Contributors ascribed their success to their first step which was to identify everyone engaged in the decision-making process who might try and block the initiative and then set up a working party to include all these people. From Key Stage One, they argued, everyone had a right to learn about how media work. In Northern Ireland the initiative was spearheaded and resourced by the qualifications authority. The Department of Education did not come on board until much later after the qualifications authority had demonstrated the success of the pilot. The key activity had been the training of teachers to deliver the subject. However, any of this would only work with a qualifications authority which was open to change.

It was generally agreed that media literacy was a very important skill and the debate must not be hijacked by the media studies debate or by comments like those recently of Chris Woodhead. Media literacy had the potential to make a huge difference to our culture. For example, media literacy could increase general literacy and vice versa. Open, accessible media were central to the transformation of society and almost a precondition to full citizenship. New digital production technology was accessible to all. There had been a crisis in regulation caused by digitisation and there was now a crisis in the ‘apoliticisation’ of our culture. It was important to identify who the opponents were and to explore what their possible motives might be. Media literacy would result in better educated consumers and citizens.

A plea was made to look at not just the National Curriculum but also the many successful projects which worked informally, particularly with educationally disaffected young people. The debate turned again to formulating some kind of definition. So far, the term had been used within the group to encompass Information and Communications Technology (ICT), rights issues, literacy, political sociology, semiotics, media production, etc. Could this list be reduced to a list of abstract, teachable skills? The Northern Ireland experience suggested it was more complex than this and it had taken them a full year just to reach a satisfactory definition.
It was pointed out that we live in a media-saturated society and that most teachers are very responsive to this and use new technologies and teaching methods which include the internet, texting, etc. Most young people are incredibly sophisticated in their use of media, probably more so than this present group. The debate around Big Brother had happened everywhere (radio, press and online) except on television because those media were better suited to the complexity and nuances of this debate.
It was suggested using the Media Literacy ‘hook’ with politicians who were anxious about the indifference of young people towards political discourse. At the same time broadcasters should be encouraged to ‘beef it up’ or inflect it more, engaging more proactively with Media Literacy and Education. The challenge, however, would ultimately require some positive response from DfES.
Some felt that the responsibility of the broadcasters should not be overstated.

Channel 4 started a foreign language film channel called ‘C4 World’ which attracted very few viewers. People want content, not style online.

A further example of the transformative power of television was cited in relation to a new programme which generated town ‘makeovers’. Essentially, local regeneration projects were televised. Through this process, participants had a degree of ownership over the project and began to feel very differently about where they lived.

The Chair summarised the discussion as follows:

  • The term Media Literacy required firmer definition but must include an understanding of how the media work, ICT, production skills, copyright and more

  • Media Literacy was seen as an important part of a healthy functioning democracy. No one had mentioned its importance also in terms of the economy

  • In terms of the ‘how’, it was seen to be ultimately the responsibility of the curriculum authorities - but the respective roles of all the institutions in this area needed to be differentiated. The issue of how it would be paid for and how value could be demonstrated had not been raised in this debate

  • The role of the Internet Service Providers and Ofcom had also not been covered.

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