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Media Literacy

The content communicated to us by and through the media we consume has the potential to impact the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us by overtly or covertly influencing our thinking, feeling, and behavior, thus making mass media a powerful tool with the capacity to enlighten as well as ensnare. The importance of media literacy in this context is learning to better recognize and protect ourselves from receiving and internalizing media messaging that may be harmful.

Media Literacy Defined

Literacy is the quality or state of being educated. Therefore media literacy entails the process of educating oneself about one’s own relationship to and consumption of mass media such as newspapers, television, film, radio, and the internet. Following is a compilation of resources that may be helpful in enhancing media literacy.

What Is Censorship?

One subtle way that powerful interests who help shape and control mass media exert their influence over society is accomplished not merely by telling people what to think, but by telling them what to think about. That means actively promoting some topics over others, or excluding certain topics altogether.

Project Censored, America’s longest running media research organization, has developed one useful definition of what they refer to as modern censorship, which is as follows:

A narrow definition of censorship focuses on government control of news. This definition has contemporary relevance, but it is insufficient because modern news censorship often takes other forms. As Project Censored has argued since its beginning in 1976, a broader definition of censorship is necessary to understand US news media.

We define “modern censorship” to include the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality by news media. This includes not only the exclusion of newsworthy stories and topics from coverage, but also the manipulation of coverage based on political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from corporate entities, advertisers, and funders), and legal pressure (e.g., the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions). Thus, censorship is not limited to overt, intentional omission, but also includes anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to have a free press system. In this wider view, censorship is best understood as a specific form of propaganda—deceptive communication intended to influence public opinion in order to benefit a special interest.

Recommended Book – 20 Years Of Censored News, by Carl Jensen and Project Censored (1997)

Classic Literature

Mass Media and Propaganda

Author’s Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky made a significant contribution to the understanding of how mass media functions as propaganda in their book, Manufacturing Consent. Following is an excerpt from a section of that book titled, A Propaganda Model:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control over the media, often supplemented by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality in command of resources, and its effect both on access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance. Read full excerpt …

Recommended Book – Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy Of the Mass Media (1988)

While some of the author’s political views are decidedly partisan, this book remains a classic in the genre of media studies nonetheless. From the Publisher’s description: “In this pathbreaking work, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky show that, contrary to the usual image of the news media as cantankerous, obstinate, and ubiquitous in their search for truth and defense of justice, in their actual practice they defend the economic, social, and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate domestic society, the state, and the global order.”

The CIA and the Media

After leaving The Washington Post in 1977, Carl Bernstein spent six months looking at the relationship of the CIA and the press during the Cold War years. His 25,000-word cover story was published in Rolling Stone on October 20, 1977, under the sub-heading: How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up. The full text is reprinted here.

More Articles

How Mass Media Shapes and Molds Society, by Vigilant Citizen

Mass media is the most powerful tool used by the ruling class to manipulate the masses. It shapes and molds opinions and attitudes and defines what is normal and acceptable. This article looks at the workings of mass media through the theories of its major thinkers, its power structure and the techniques it uses, in order to understand its true role in society. Read full article …

Other Resources

The Media Navigator

Provided by the non-partisan Swiss Policy Research group, The Media Navigator classifies 72 influential media outlets based on their political stance and their relationship to power.

Guide To Mass Media Ownership

The ever increasing consolidation of more and more media organizations into fewer and fewer hands is beyond what many today are aware. For instance, did you know that media giant Viacom owns MTV, CMT and BET networks, as well as Nickelodeon? Did you know that the Washington Post also owns Kaplan Test Prep and other related education services? Explore these and other connections with Columbia Journalism Review’s guide to what the major media companies own.

Mass Media: A History – Course Notes

Study the course notes for James Corbett’s Mass Media: A History. The course is available through Renegade University.

More resources will be added to this page as time permits. If you know of a helpful resource you’d like to recommend feel free to drop us a line.

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