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This "history" is by no means an official history of communication. We placed a call for people to provide information on some historical evidence of media literacy in an area of the world. This "history," for example, ignores the work done by the British, Australians and many others for which we do not have time to explore. According to John Pungente, media literacy can be traced back to the 18th century! Those that did contact me wanted people to know of the small and sometimes big way individuals and organizations have contributed to the media literacy movement world-wide. Some individuals were upset that the history seemed too Canadian; others found it "disturbing" that the Americans were getting so much credit. Thanks to all who provided feedback. Take this page as informational--not historical or chronological and complete in any way.
The media literacy movement has been gaining momentum for many years. In Canada, particularly Ontario, media literacy has been around since the 1970s as stand-alone credits. The Association of Media Literacy, based in Toronto offers guidance, resources and all around expertise to educators wanting to become themselves more media literate, as well as desiring to enlighten students about advertising, television, and movies.
In 1990, a World Conference in media literacy was held in Guelph, Ontario, where over 500 educators from Canada, the U.S., Australia and many other parts of the world, converged to discuss the need for media literacy and devised plans to join hands in a movement to re-invent critical thought as it applied to media messages. Since then, three national media literacy conferences have been held in the United States: in Boone, North Carolina in 1995, Los Angeles in 1996, and Colorado Springs in 1998.
The Center for Media Literacy, founded by Elizabeth Thoman in 1976 in Los Angeles, has been a forerunner in Media Literacy world-wide. The CML has published significant newsletters to media educators--Media and Values and Connect--as well as offers crash courses year around to educators wanting to teach media literacy. The CML boasts the most comprehensive on-line resource library on the internet. Click above to visit the CML.
While Canada is recognized as a leader in media literacy, the movement got its start in Madison, Wisconsin, according to Mariela Rowe from the National Telemedia Council, which, today, publishes an excellent media literacy magazine called Telemedium which reviews media materials, offers interviews of media experts as well as features articles by the experts on important media issues. According to Mariela Rowe, the media movement--it wasn't called media literacy--got its start in the mid 1930s when women got together and formed a chapter of the Amercian Association of University Women. This group had a weekly column in the Wisconsin State Journal and began a 15 minute weekly radio program called "Broadcast on Broadcasts," hosted by the founder Dr. Leslie Spence. In 1953, they founded the national organization under the name of American Council for Better Broadcasts and launched an annual ACBB Project called the Look-Listen Opinion Poll (later called Project Look Listen Think Respond) which the group continued for 40 years. In 1983 (at the 30th anniversary) the group changed the name from the ACBB to the National Telemedia Council. Mariela reports that her preference for a new name would have been "American Council for Media Literacy," but the board of directors felt no one would understand the name (!).
The following is an exerpt from a newsletter put out by the Wisconsin Association for Better Radio and Television:
On Children's programs
Anyone in his right mind must freely admit that bestial crime and horror are not conducive to the best psychological development of a child...that bad grammar and vile oaths of some children's programs 'defeat parents' and teachers' efforts to develop a sense of good taste in children.
On False Advertising:
The city of Los Angeles has an ordinance prohibiting false and misleading advertising. Recently a fine of $500 was levied against the Thrifty Vacuum Cleaner Stores of that city of Municipal Judge Kempel. He said it is regrettable that television advertising cannot be screened more carefully to weed out these present day medicine men.
On News on TV:
Under the title, "How to Make Mince-Meat out of a TV News Show," John Daly gives his ideas about TV News practices, in Variety on January 6. Especially he dislikes having the newscaster move around just for the sake of moving.
The Association for Media Literacy, founded by Barry Duncan in 1977, has hosted several mini-conferences each summer at Ryerson University in Toronto where media professionals and educators spend a full week, analyzing, understanding, and interacting with media in classrooms as well as on field trips to the movie production houses in Skydome. The Association for Media Literacy has been the source of many textbooks and curriculum in media literacy, including Barry Duncan's critically acclaimed Mass Media and Popular Culture. In May of 2000, the AML is planning an International Media Literacy Conference called SUMMIT 2000, where some 1500 media experts and educators world-wide will gather and share ideas about media literacy.
The 1990s have seen an explosion in the movement of media literacy, thanks in part to the Internet, which has enabled organizations like the CML and AML, to reach the masses with their call to action within families, classrooms and youth organizations. Three excellent websites you can visit to learn more about media literacy and how to spread the word about its importance ares the MEDIA AWARENESS NETWORK, The University of Oregon Media Homepage and THE NEW MEXICO MEDIA LITERACY PROJECT, and the UNIVERSITY OF OREGON MEDIA LITERACY ONLINE PROJECT. These websites offer a plethora of resources, speaker rosters, and upcoming conferences. The MEDIA AWARENESS NETWORK is based in Ottawa, Ontario, and while it is put out by the Ontario Ministry of Education, it offers strategies for parents as well.
A quick look at the history of media literacy would not be complete without the mention of the Vancouver-based Media Foundation, which publishes Adbusters Magazine, which is now distributed world-wide. Best known for creating parody ads of some of the most famous advertising campaigns, Adbusters is also responsible for WORLD BUY NOTHING DAY (November) and TV TURN-OFF WEEK (April), which challenges citizens to continuously re-evaluate their own lifestyles within a consumer society.
As we approach 2000, the need for media literacy is paramount within our classrooms and families. With many school systems emphasizing a "Back to the Basics" approach to education, media literacy must be recognized as the "new basic" in the life-long journey we take in our critical analysis of media images, messages, and texts.
In the past five years, many media organizations have emerged all over the North America, each with its own unique emphasis to the media literacy movement. Whether focusing on gender, race or health issues in the media, each organization contributes to the many-faceted discipline we call media literacy. In the future, all teachers will teach media literacy in every area of the curriculum. To do less would be to relinquish a democratic society. Join the movement. Be a media literacy educator. E-mail us to find out how.