Education about the media is essential –
It is therefore important that our State and Federal Governments immediately implement policies and strategies to ensure that all Australians, especially our children, become educated consumers of our media who are also able to access and use the media.
The media play a major role in our political system. They disseminate information from governments and are often a catalyst to debate about political issues. Citizens can only be true participants in Australian democracy if they understand how this information is disseminated i.e. the processes involved in acquiring, selecting, packaging and delivering information. Governments themselves have long recognised the important role the media play and heavily regulate this industry. Governments also make extensive use of the media to communicate to a variety of messages and frequently it is the government that spends the largest amount each year on advertising. At election time, political parties also exploit all forms of media to promote their candidates and their policies.
If our governments recognise the power that the media can play in our democratic system, why have they been tardy in equipping Australians with the knowledge and skills to be a more critical audience. Numerous inquiries into violence and the media recommended that there should be more media education programs but this has not happened. Despite MCEETYA recommending the development of middle school strategy following the Pt Arthur shootings, this was no longer a priority twelve months later.
Are the citizens of Australia then to conclude that our governments would prefer to keep them disempowered? The lack of action from both the Federal and State governments over the past two decades support this conclusion. Media Education must become a priority if our governments are genuinely concerned in creating effective citizens.
Many of the messages that our governments spend large amounts of money to broadcast through the media, are about health. Anti-smoking, anti-drug, responsible drinking announcements are prolific. Non-profit organisations also use the media to promote understanding about asthma, diabetes, heart disease, sight disorders and many other health issues. The connection between Hollywood stars and the glamorisation of smoking is well documented. Much discussion has occurred more recently about the image of 'attractive' females portrayed in the media and the corresponding increase in eating disorders amongst young females. On the other hand some studies point to a link between increased obesity and less physical activity in our young as they spend more time in front of TVs and computer screens. This is augmented by the heavy amount of advertising for fast foods, soft drinks and other less healthy snack foods. The large multinational companies that utilise advertising have enough evidence that their strategies work for them to maintain and expand their advertising budgets each year. Product placement in feature film and sponsorship of major sporting events are other important avenues to promote 'unhealthy' products. Governments accept that this influence exists and regulate advertising of these products and in the case of cigarettes, the banning of their promotion.
Media Education creates consumers who are more critical. This comes from gaining knowledge about how advertising works; by understanding its frequent use of emotional rather than rational appeals. Media education must become a priority if our governments are genuinely concerned in promoting good health amongst all Australians.
The way in which the media portrays different groups within our society is recognised as an influencing factor in forming our perceptions and attitudes towards that group. For this reason the Codes of Practice and Editorial Policies of our major media outlets include specific details about how to portray people based on their gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, sexual preference, indigenousness, disability and so on. However while our government can strive to regulate Australian media productions, much of what Australians see and hear has been produced in other countries and other cultures.
If Australian society is to promote a multicultural society based on values of tolerance and fairness then our community must be equipped to analyse the stereotypes portrayed in the media and evaluate their validity.
The images that Australians view themselves as and the ones we represent as ourselves to the rest of the world are very mush created and maintained through the media. The popularity of Australian movies and television programs is indicative of our desire to see and hear our own culture. We speak with pride of our early film industry and our place in history – the nation that pioneered the full-length feature film. Contemporary movies (Muriel’s Wedding, Shine, Strictly Ballroom, The Castle, The Dish, Lantana etc) have continued to present our uniqueness with success not only to Australians but also to those overseas. It has been suggested that with Australian company, News Corporation’s ownership of the Twentieth Century Fox group that some of our cultural qualities, particularly our sense of humour, are infiltrating US culture.
Surveys clearly show that television viewing alone constitutes most Australians’ major cultural activity. This is closely followed by other media activities. While we would like to see ourselves as a nation of sports people, we are instead a nation of sports viewers. If we want young Australians to contribute to our national identity through artistic and cultural activity, then surely they must be able to access the media as easily as they can sport, music or drama. Media education provides opportunities for young people to do this. It encourages the production of videos, radio programs, newspapers & magazines, web sites, audio and music CDs – any medium that can help Australians tell their story.
With companies such as News Corp, PBL, Fairfax and Seven Network listed amongst Australia’s top 100 companies, it is clear that the media are an integral part of our economic growth. Often these companies have lead this growth as new technologies such as pay TV and the Internet have developed. The film industry has seen the establishment of major studios at the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne with our directors, actors and film crews eagerly sought after by major Hollywood studios. As technologies converge and markets fragment into niches, the need for product increases. This product is not only for domestic consumption but for global markets. Unfortunately as our skilled media workers are wooed overseas, a void is created that is not quickly filled. With the launch of the National Film, Television, Radio & Multimedia Training Package, Australia has the structure with which to train the next generation of media workers but how many groups will offer this training? Media education particularly in the senior secondary years, can provide a VET focus that will help young people begin a career pathway leading to work in the media industry. Such a strategy would alleviate shortages and encourage more enterprising and talented people into the industry.
Literacy has long been a major concern for Australian education systems. In recent years, Computer (or IT or ICT) literacy has dominated with governments pouring millions of dollars into providing computers for students. Important statistics such as 1 computer for every 4 students are often cited as if this is some measure of literacy. Yet how many video or still cameras do our children have access to? How many portable mini disk recorders or sound mixers? In the end, all these technologies are merely tools to help us communicate. But education systems have jumped forward a step without addressing some fundamental skills. Being able to create web pages, CD ROMs or other multimedia still relies on understanding the basic skills of visual and audio acquisition and manipulation as well as graphic design. Media education not only addresses skills needed for emerging technologies but also more importantly establishes the basic understandings that are the foundation. Our education systems have not as yet been motivated to achieve this to any great extent. However the events of September 11, 2001 remind us of how powerful the traditional media still are. Surely it is long overdue for Australians to become literate in using forms of communication that in some cases have been a part of our lives for over the past one hundred years.
For further information contact –
The South Australian Association for Media Education Inc
PO Box 300, Ingle Farm SA 5098
Grant Brindal, President
Ph: 0417 838 635
End of page content, site navigation links follow.