Mediatisation is a term that invokes the ubiquity and pervasiveness of media in the contemporary world. From the macro-institutions that structure society to the nooks and crannies of our everyday lives, media have become an omnipresent element. As our lives go online and time spent in front of screens increases, there is no doubt that the information society is changing the way we live and interact and, consequently presenting new challenges to our core values. New media are driving new practices that are profoundly affecting almost any aspect of the social, economic, cultural and political life and learning.
The more pervasive the role of the new media in modern society, the more it is imperative to identify and manage the development of the skills and the abilities to use them. Thus, media literacy is a field that has grown rapidly in recent years, both in the academic and the policy discourses, and which will become even more important in the future, as “new” media – notably digital communications, the internet and mobile telephony – become almost universal.
The European Union has reacted strongly to all these and has highlighted the need for more critical media literacy in support of democratic development and resistance to hate speech and propaganda.
Media literacy is one of the key pre-requisites for an active and full citizenship in order to prevent and diminish risks of exclusion from community life. It is a fundamental skill not only for young people but also for adults and elderly people, parents, teachers and media professionals. Just as literacy was at the beginning of the twentieth century, media literacy is a key pre-requisite of the twenty-first century. In order to be able to navigate this digital landscape – which almost no one could or should avoid – we all need to media and information literate.
Media competence is a life skill that is necessary for full participation in society. Both the academic and policy discourse in the field argue that media literacy is a pre-requisite for full participation in late modern society, involving as it does the critical skills of analysis and appreciation of the social dynamics and social centrality of media as framing the cultures of the everyday. Media-literate individuals, it is argued, take an active, rather than passive, role in acquiring new knowledge and skills. In this way, they become fully able to participate as critical consumers and citizens in a media-saturated society.
The media-literate individual is someone who has an appreciation for those who control media content, and how the political economy of the media industry is reflective of and influenced by geopolitical trends, a realization of why some content types are excluded from media messages, while others are intensively amplified, a sensitivity to one’s own conscious and subconscious responses to mass media, and an awareness of the effects these media can have on individuals. In addition to being able to skillfully deconstruct media texts, the person who is truly media literate is also knowledgeable of the political economy of the media, the consequences of media consumption, and the activist and alternative media movements that seek to challenge mainstream media norms.
In a democratic society, a media-literate individual is more able to gain an informed opinion on matters of the day, and to be able to express his/her opinion individually and collectively in public, civic and political domains. A media-literate society would thus support a sophisticated, critical and inclusive public sphere. Navigating in today’s media world demands knowing how to search and find relevant sources of information as quickly as possible by “googling”, etc., but also being able to tell reliable from unreliable.