Eileen Culloty: Media Literacy and the Future of Media

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With the Future of Media Commission looking at ways to sustainably fund Irish media and the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, Eileen Culloty argues that these decisions have the power to shape the media landscape for decades to come. 

In her essay Media Literacy and the Future of Media, Culloty maintains that given the media’s central role in democratic and civil life, improving media literacy among Irish citizens is becoming increasingly important. 

News media has yet to come up with a way of making money online. Advertising revenue has all but disappeared as advertisers no longer need media outlets to reach their audiences. A recent analysis by marketing group Core found that in 2019, Google and Facebook were on the receiving end of 81 per cent of all online ad revenue. This has the knock on effect of squeezing out Irish media, a fact borne out by Local Ireland’s findings that 16 regional papers closed in the last decade and employment in the industry is half of what it once was. 

While not a solution, improving national media literacy would ensure that Irish citizens understand the issues and could make meaningful contributions to the resulting debates. This year’s Reuters Digital News Report (DNR) has found that only 12 per cent of respondents were aware that online news is unprofitable, while 72 per cent didn’t know that an algorithm controls what they see on their Facebook feeds. This, Culloty notes, could explain “why half of respondents say they are “not very” or “not at all” concerned about the financial state of commercial media.”

Culloty goes on to admit that such a broad survey question can’t capture the nuances of public opinion, and that furnished with some context about the decline of media and its implications those same respondents would likely give a very different answer.

There is no shortage of programmes aimed at improving media literacy across all age groups. Supported by the BAI, Media Literacy Ireland runs the Be Media Smart campaign which looks to counteract false information. NewsBrands Ireland runs a news literacy programme which has been completed by 80,000 secondary school students to date, while TUDublin runs news website CLiC for primary schools. For adults, public libraries run regular talks and discussions, while NGOs provide support to specific groups such as the elderly.

Culloty concludes by saying that members of the public “need to be involved in the debates about how media are funded and regulated. Expanding opportunities for people to develop media literacy is a first step to ensuring the public have meaningful participation in these debates.” 

Dr. Culloty’s essay and the rest of the Digital News Report can be viewed here.

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