Five principles of media literacy. Quoted from Media Literacy Resource Guide. Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989. pp. 8-9.
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  1. All media are constructions. Perhaps the most important concept in media-literacy education is that the media do not present simple reflections of external reality; they present productions, which have specific purposes. The success of these productions lies in their apparent naturalness. However, although they appear to be natural, they are in fact carefully crafted constructions that have been subjected to a broad range of determinants and decisions. From a technical point of view, they are often superb, and this, coupled with our familiarity with such productions, makes it almost impossible for us to see them as anything other that a seamless extension of reality. Our task is to expose the complexities of media texts and thereby make the seams visible.
  2. The media construct reality. All of us have a "construct," the picture we have built up in our heads since birth, of what the world is and how it works. It is a model based on the sense we have made of all our observations and experiences. When, however, a major part of those observations and experiences come to us preconstructed by the media, with attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in, then the media, rather than we ourselves, are constructing our reality.
  3. Audiences negotiate meaning in media. Basic to an understanding of media is an awareness of how we interact with media texts. When we look at any media text, each of us finds meaning through a wide variety of factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or trouble of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background. All of these have a bearing on how we process information. For example, the way in which two students respond to a television situation comedy (sitcom) depends on what each brings to that text. In short, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning in different ways. Media teachers, therefore, have to be open to the ways in which students have individually experienced the text with which they are dealing.
  4. Media have commercial implications. Media literacy includes an awareness of the economic basis of mass- media production and how it impinges on content, techniques, and distribution. We should be aware that, for all practical purposes, media production is a business and must make a profit. In the case of the television industry, for example, all programs - news, public affairs, or entertainment - must be judged by the size of the audience they generate. A prime-time American network show with fewer than twenty million viewers will not generally be kept on the air. Audience sampling and rating services also provide advertisers with detailed demographic breakdowns of audience for specific media. A knowledge of this allows students to understand how program content makes them targets for advertisers and organizes viewers into marketable groups.
    The issue of ownership, control, and related effects should also be explored. The tendency, both here in Canada and in some other countries, has been towards increased concentration of ownership of the individual media in fewer and fewer hands, as well as the development of integrated ownership patterns across several media. What this means in practical terms is that a relatively small number of individuals decide what television programs will be broadcast, what issues will be investigated and reported. For example, many cities in Ontario have only one daily newspaper, and often it is part of a large chain. This has many implications for the reporting of controversial stories and for investigative journalism.
  5. Media contain ideological and value messages. Media literacy involves an awareness of the ideological implications and value systems of media texts. All media products are advertising in some sense - for themselves, but also for values or ways of life. They usually affirm the existing social system. The ideological messages contained in, for example, a typical Hollywood television narrative are almost invisible to North Americans, but they would be much more apparent to people in developing countries. Typical mainstream North American media convey a number of explicit and implicitly ideological messages, which can in include some or all of the following: the nature of "the good life" and the role of affluence in it, the virtues of "consumerism," the proper role of women, the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism. We need to use decoding techniques in order to uncover these ideological messages and values systems.

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