Media literacy refers to the ability to understand and use all forms of modern media. Types of media include written sources such as newspapers and magazines, visual sources such as television programs and audio sources such as the radio. Elements of media literacy move beyond understanding and usage of media to critical thinking elements such as bias, analysis and identifying propaganda.
Literacy is a broad term for being able to read and write. This moves beyond copying to demonstrating a clear ability to understand. This forms the basis of the China Room Theory that demonstrates that computers are not literate because they lack understanding. Literacy also includes visual literacy, which is the understanding and usage of visual media such as pictures and photographs.
The concept of literacy is important for helping people to integrate into society and to pull themselves out of poverty. The highest levels of literacy are to be found in North America, Europe and East Asia. The lowest levels are found in poorer elements of society and poorer parts of the world such as Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.
Several types of media are covered by the term media literacy. Each type of media has unique factors in it. Radio literacy relies upon audio skills only, while television and movie media include both the visual and audio. Written media such as newspapers and magazines may have photographs, but are largely based on words. This means, in order to be media-literate, the student needs to develop traditional literacy skills as well as visual literacy skills.
The number of media literacy courses has developed over the second half of the 20th century. First introduced to America by English teachers, it is now a core, if subtle, element of English language, literature and history teaching. Such courses can become more developed and distinct at higher levels, leading to degrees and college courses in the media. Teaching media literacy has helped to develop critical thinking skills concerning propaganda, bias and censorship.
Studying media literacy also helps to develop a number of practical skills. This includes basic skills such as reading, writing, listening and speaking. It also includes the production and writing of media such as articles, films and videos. More developed courses also teach students about the practical elements of producing media such as research, prop design, editing and promotion.
Being media-literate also means being able to understand how the media industry operates. This includes topics such as media ownership, the difference between public and private operators and corporate structures. It also means being able to understand the media’s responsibilities and the effect media irresponsibility can have.