Children and the media
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Decoding the messages
Mass communication has given birth to an industrial sector that
has become all-encompassing. Vast media empires are significant
players in the global economy, shaping the political, cultural and
economic development of nation states.
Appreciating how and why mass media constructs and distributes
information, requires skills that are not readily available to adults,
let alone children and young people. Such knowledge - acquired through
disciplines like media literacy, media education, media studies
or vocational training - has now become an important life skill.
Very young children may find it difficult to differentiate between
what is 'real' and what is fictional, but even adults can have difficulty
truly understanding the coverage of events by media which may be
pursuing a variety of goals. Media companies have business interests
in a variety of industrial and service sectors, and links that may
not be immediately obvious to their consumers. And since such corporations
may have a very different economic and political agenda to the individuals
who purchase or rely upon their products, issues of equity and editorial
integrity can be at stake.
Product placement, programme and product sponsorships and cross-media
marketing have blurred conventional lines between journalism and
advertising. Our attitude towards a book review, for example, changes
if we are made aware that the item has been produced by the same
media company that is publishing the review, and that it may be
obtained at a special rate if it is purchased through the company's
There may be a debate about where and how the ability to interpret
communication techniques should be learned, but there can be little
doubt about why it has become so important. Unless everyone recognizes
the influence of the media, and learns how to engage with it, their
ability to participate in society is curtailed.
Developing media education within schools curricula, media awareness
projects and practical opportunities for media production are invaluable
methods of ensuring that young people are well equipped to tackle
the complexities of adult life and to contribute to public debate
about the type of society in which they want to live.
Media professionals have a role to play in developing media literacy
programmes within schools, as well as a vested interest in ensuring
that future generations trust the mass media as a source of reliable
This is part of the rationale behind the Newspapers in Education
scheme, operated by the World
Association of Newspapers, which encourages children to produce
their own or contribute to existing newspapers. In the process they
learn about the role of the media, and how it constructs meaning
from events rather than just recording them.
Opportunities for children to become involved in media production
- and learn about how the media operates in the process - can be
seen in projects such as Children's
Express and UNICEF's Voices
of Youth initiative. These collaborative projects increase mutual
appreciation between children and journalists.
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