Key Concepts

Key Concepts of Media Literacy

Scanning Television is based on Ontario's provincial standards document which links outcomes to the following eight key concepts. These concepts provide a theoretical base for all media literacy and give teachers a common language and frame work for discussion.  Many of the educators who wrote the Ontario and other provincial curricula have contributed to the selection of the videos and the writing of the teaching guide for Scanning Television. ( See Credits)

1. All media messages are constructions. This is arguably the most important concept. The media do not simply reflect external reality. Rather, they pre-sent carefully crafted constructions that reflect many decisions and are the result of many determining factors. Media literacy works towards deconstructing these constructions (i.e., to taking them apart to show how they are made).

2. The media construct versions of reality. The media are responsible for the majority of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of our view of reality is based on media messages that have been preconstructed, and have attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in. Thus the media, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality.

3. Audiences negotiate meaning in media messages. If the media provide us with much of the material upon which we build our picture of reality, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning according to individual factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or troubles of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background, moral standpoint, and so forth.

4. Media messages contain commercial implications. Media literacy aims to encourage awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how they impinge on content, technique, and distribution. Most media production is a business, and so must make a profit. Questions of ownership and control are central: a relatively small number of individuals control what we watch, read, and hear in the media.

5. Media messages contain ideological and value messages. All media products are advertising in some sense, proclaiming values and ways of life. The mainstream media tend to convey, explicitly or implicitly, ideological messages about the nature of the good life and the virtue of consumerism, the role of women, the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism.

6. Media messages contain social and political implications. The media have great influence in politics and in forming social change. Television can greatly influence the election of a national leader on the basis of image. The media involve us in concerns such as civil rights issues, famines in Africa, and the AIDS epidemic. They give us an intimate sense of national issues and global concerns, so that we have become McLuhan's Global Village.

7. Form and content are closely related in media messages. As Marshall McLuhan noted, each medium has its own grammar and codifies reality in its own particular ways. Different media will report the same event, but create different impressions and messages.

8. Each medium has a unique aesthetic form. Just as we notice the pleasing rhythms of certain pieces of poetry or prose, so ought we be able to enjoy the pleasing forms and effects of different media. These key concepts come into all media literacy activities, to varying degrees. The introduction to each video excerpt indicates which key concepts are highlighted.