7 Nov 2017

Critical Media Literacy: Who Needs It? - Conference Review



Guest post by Sarah-Anne Kennedy, Dublin Institute of Technology. Sarah-Anne holds a BA (Hons) from the National University of Ireland Maynooth (MU) in English and History and a Masters of Library and Information Science from University College Dublin (UCD). She has been with the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) since 2006 and is currently supporting the College of Business, the School of Media and the School of Law. Sarah is interested in engaging and supporting students through blended learning and looking at new ways of bringing the Library to the student. 

The Centre for Critical Media Literacy hosted their inaugural conference Critical Media Literacy: Who Needs It? On Friday 20th October and Saturday October 21st in DIT Aungier St., Dublin. The conference was supported by DIT School of Media and the School of Multidisciplinary Technologies as well as a dedicated team of volunteer students of journalism.

I was unable to attend the opening Keynote on Friday 20th October from Richard Barbrook from the University of Westminster discussing ‘Critical Media Literacy & Digital Democracy’ with responses from Niamh Sweeney (Facebook) and Martina Chapman (Media Literacy Consultant). You can listen to a recording of the keynote and other sessions from the day on the DIT School of Media Facebook page.

The majority of proceedings took place the following day and it was a jam packed schedule with a range of topics discussed from Media Literacy (ML) education to citizen journalism to surveillance and privacy.

David Buckingham (London University) opened the day’s proceedings by giving an outline of the Media Literacy landscape in the UK. By not aligning Media Literacy (ML) and Media Education (ME), UK government policy has missed the mark. Essentially, ML policy was not part of ME policy and so was not reaching those who needed to be educated on ML essentials.
He argued that there was a focus on ‘media use’ rather than ML and that there was a disconnect across the educational landscape. David argued that there had been a “strangulation” of Media Studies and that educators were battling against policy from the government. Curriculum in UK schools was moving towards a ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum which essentially means that media studies survives but in a reduced (and easier!) form.

What do we need to tackle this? David argued that we need policy documents that align ML and ME, resources (not just textbooks), teacher training on ML, professional development networks, partnerships, research and evaluation and ME and media reform. While I would not be an expert on the ML issue in primary and secondary education in Ireland I could recognise the issues that David raised.

You can find out more about David Buckingham’s work and research on his website

Next up was Sheena Horgan talking about her involvement with MediaWise. MediaWise is a new education resource to help teach primary school children about media, advertising and fake news. The resource was developed to help media literacy education move away from only focusing on media skills development to empowerment. Sheena argued that we all have a collective responsibility when it comes to educating children -parents, the media industry, the government and educators. Librarians were not mentioned however. Why?

The next talk came from Kate Shanahan (Head of Journalism, DIT) and Róisín Boyd (School of Media, DIT) and they showcased the excellent work being carried out by DIT journalism students in delivering CLiC News. CLiC News is a free student produced rolling news service set up through collaboration between the DIT School of Journalism, Access & Civic Engagement Office (ACE) and Students Learning with Communities (SLWC). It is essentially media literacy in practice.

Clare Scully (School of Media, DIT) presented on the idea of ML usually being taught within the context of a ‘one-size fits all’ module. She argued that this is not effective when it comes to teaching students studying a range of media subjects. A module needed to be developed for media students that uses the language of the discipline and is based on pedagogical aspiration and approach. Clare argued that there was a conflation between general literacy and ML literacy problems and that the one-size fits all model goes against the aspiration of an ML module. Her research shows that students rank soft skills of academic writing etc. over critical thinking and evaluation which is opposite to how academics rank them. Ongoing development is needed and one module for all box ticking does not work.

The first break out session I attended looked at Social Science Experts and the Media. Barry Finnegan was first up to discuss Critical Media Literacy (CML) and trade agreements. He focused on TTIP and CETA and showed that despite CETA being the trade agreement that Ireland operates under there was more news coverage for TTIP. News coverage was primarily in the finance section of newspapers and the balance was pro-TTIP. Barry questioned why was it presented primarily as a finance story despite being a public interest story?

Next up were DIT researchers Joseph K. Fitzgerald and Brendan O’Rourke who are looking at the prominence of economists in Irish public discourse. They outlined how, since 1910, economists have slowly been granted authority by the media. Their research shows that economists have moved away from only governments granting authority to the media now granting that authority. Essentially moving from an academic order to a political order and now on to a media order.

Leena Ripatti-Torniainen (University of Helsinki) presented her research on public pedagogy. Leena’s research looks at public pedagogy as an approach to teaching experts to act in the political public sphere. She argues that we need to support student autonomy and judgement and that we can promote the teaching and learning of ML through acting in the public sphere.

Following Leena we had Henry Silke (UL), Maria Rieder (UL) and Hernik Theine (WU Vienna) presenting on the representation of ‘celebrity economists’ in the media, focusing on Thomas Piketty. They showcased the alarming trend of economists going unquestioned with their opinions being presented as fact. Their study looks at news coverage in four countries and how there is little disagreement with Piketty. The study uses a Corpus Linguistics methodology and alarmingly, when economists are discussed in the media words like ‘star’, ‘celebrity’ and even ‘messiah’ appear quite frequently. Looking closer to home, there is generally large agreement with Piketty across the Irish press showcasing a lack of protest and theory presented as reality.

The next break out session I attended looked at Truth or Data -Accuracy, Privacy and Surveillance at which myself and my colleague Róisín Guilfoyle also presented. Sarah Kearney (BL) opened the session looking at recent data protection cases in Ireland such as Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner which looks at the transfer of data from the EU to the US. and Digital Rights Ireland v Minister for Communication & Ors which looks at data retention and IP tracking. Sarah also spoke about the Fennelly report (March 2017) and the new General Data Protection Regulation which will come into force 25th May 2018.

Next up was Dr. Eileen Culloty (DCU) who presented on why fake news succeeds and how to oppose it. Her research looks at the online reasoning abilities of 2nd year undergraduate journalism students. Eileen used two control groups in her study, secondary school students and also secondary school students from the Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI). Eileen’s findings show that the journalism students in her study are over-reliant on heuristic principles/thinking and therefore fail to identify fake or biased websites.

Myself and my colleague, Róisín Guilfoyle (DIT) were up next and we presented on the similarities between ML and IL and that our experience matches the findings of a lot of literature and also Dr. Culloty’s (DCU), in that the majority of students lack critical thinking and evaluation skills. We also presented on the premise that our academic peers do not know that Librarians teach IL, and in particular, we teach critical thinking and evaluation. We argued that librarians and academics need to collaborate in teaching Digital Literacy based on the JISC Seven Elements model (see image). This is a term that will resonate with future students as Digital Media Literacy is now a subject on the Junior Cycle at second level and is also a DIT graduate attribute.

Courtesy of Sarah-Anne Kennedy


Our suggestions were strengthened by the next presenter, Isabelle Courtney. Isabelle has just recently finished the MLIS in DBS. Her dissertation looked at the role of information literacy in journalism education in Ireland. Her findings suggested that again there are similarities between the literacies and that collaboration is required between academics and librarians. She argued that there is a lack of awareness among media academics of the ‘teaching librarian’.

The last to present in this session was Cliodhna Pierce (DIT) whose research looks at the comparison between models of surveillance in East Germany and Northern Ireland and examining their relevance to the securitisation of today’s society. It was fascinating to see the similarities between data collection and surveillance during the past and present. Cliodhna argued that the public seem to be more concerned with surveillance over personal privacy.

The closing session focused on Journalism, Technology and the Public Sphere. Jen Hauser (DIT) presented on her research looking at amateur journalism with a focus on the coverage of the Aleppo offensive. Jen showcased how collaboration between professional journalists and amateur news coverage or footage is now commonplace. There is a new role for professionals in managing this collaboration and managing impartiality and bias that may exist in citizen journalism.

Next up was Kathryn Hayes (UL) who presented on freelance journalism in the age of social media. Kathryn argued that freelance journalism is the largest growth area in journalism. The precarious nature of the role of freelance journalists was outlined. Her findings show that younger journalists are more engaged with social media and technology to source information. They show less distrust of the medium. Older journalists rely on the older methods of interviewing people face to face. Kathryn questioned whether reliance on freelance journalists was sustainable and what are the implications for journalism?

My overall take away from this conference was the need for partnership and collaboration between librarians and academics. We all have a collective responsibility to enable students with the relevant skills to be media literate in an ever-confusing and complicated media landscape. The majority of presenters throughout the day mentioned the need for critical thinking and evaluation skills to be taught to students. There seems however, to be a complete lack of awareness among our academic peers and others that Librarians teach just that. As a profession we need to take control of how we are perceived and communicate our skills and expertise to those with which we can collaborate. Rather than waiting to be invited we can invite ourselves and ask to be involved in developing modules, programmes and curricula that supports media literacy and information literacy. We need to promote ourselves as stakeholders in this area on a national level.

One such way is getting involved with the Irish Media Literacy Network through the Broadcasting Association of Ireland (BAI). http://www.bai.ie/en/bai-launches-media-literacy-policy/

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