Why Media Literacy is Important

Today information about the world around us comes to us not only as written texts but any form - verbal, aural or visual messages of our multi-media culture. Although mediated messages appear to be self-evident, in truth, they use a complex audio/visual “language” which has its own rules (grammar) and which can be used to express many-layered concepts and ideas about the world. If our children are to be able to navigate their lives through this multi-media culture, they need to be fluent in “reading” and “writing” the language of images and sounds just as we have always taught them to read and write the language of printed communications.


"When people talk to me about the digital divide, I think of it not so much about who has access to what technology as about who knows how to create and express themselves in the new language of the screen. If students aren't taught the language of sound and images, shouldn't they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read and write?"
George Lucas, filmmaker Sept. 2004, Edutopia, Life on the Screen

1. The influence of media in our central democratic processes.
In a global media culture, people need two skills in order to be engaged citizens of a democracy: critical thinking and self-expression. Media literacy instills both of these core skills, enabling future citizens to sort through political packaging, understand and contribute to public discourse, and, ultimately, make informed decisions in the voting booth.

2. The high rate of media consumption and the saturation of society by media.
When one considers videogames, television, pop music, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, the internet
– even T-shirts! – we are exposed to more mediated messages in one day than our great-grandparents were exposed to in a year. Media literacy teaches the skills we need to navigate safely through this sea of images and messages -- for all our lives.

3. The media’s influence on shaping perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.
While research disagrees on the extent and type of influence, it is unquestionable that media experiences exert a significant impact on the way we understand, interpret and act on our world. By helping us understand those influences, media education can help us separate from our dependencies on them.

4. The increasing importance of visual communication and information.
While schools continue to be dominated by print, our lives are increasingly influenced by visual images -- from corporate logos to building-sized billboards to Internet websites. Learning how to “read” the multiple layers of image-based communication is a necessary adjunct to traditional print literacy. We live in a multi-media world.

5. The importance of information in society and the need for lifelong learning.
Information processing and information services are at the core of our nation’s productivity but the growth of global media industries is also challenging independent voices and diverse views. Media education can help both teachers and students understand where information comes from, whose interests may be being served and how to find alternative views.

Adapted from Len Masterman, Teaching the Media

Adapted from Len Masterman, Teaching the Media© 2003 Center for Media Literacy / www.medialit.org