CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF MEDIA EDUCATION ORGANIZATIONS

 

 


PRESENTATION TO CRTC CONSULTATIONS ON TELEVISION VIOLENCE

 

Canadian Association of Media Education Associations (CAMEO)
John J. Pungente, SJ, , President
Toronto, October 4, 1995

Introduction:

Thank you for this opportunity to address the CRTC. My name is John Pungente and I am here as president of CAMEO - the Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations - whose members represent the provinces from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. This CRTC commission has heard submissions from CAMEO's member organizations in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.

The printed material which I have submitted contains my detailed curriculum vitae. Briefly, I am a Jesuit priest, a media studies teacher for 30 years, first chair of the Manitoba Film Classification Board, director of the Jesuit Communication Project, Executive Secretary of the Ontario Association for Media Literacy, as well as President of CAMEO. Since 1984, I have written on media literacy and have made over 300 presentations on the topic across Canada, Australia, and Great Britain as well as in Japan, the USA, France and Spain.

One of the major responses which the CRTC wishes to apply to the issue of violence and the media is media literacy. Parents, educators, child welfare experts, media advocacy groups and the media themselves support programs in media literacy. It has become increasingly evident that media literacy has a prime role to play in this issue. There has been an overwhelming call across this country for media literacy as part of the response to the question of violence and the media.

Canadians are aware - now more than ever - of the importance of media literacy. By the time the average Canadian child graduates from high school he or she will have spent twice as much time in front of the television set as in the classroom. Television has become what educator Neil Postman has described as the "first curriculum", a medium that influences every aspect of children's lives - from basic values, to the clothes they wear, to the way they talk to their friends.

With such a huge amount of time invested in television, it is important for children to understand exactly what the medium is and how it affects them. Media literacy is the ability to look carefully at media messages and think critically about them, It is a basic literacy - one that is as important as reading or writing.

The media never simply present the world. Rather they re-present the world. From which positions, in whose interests, and for what purposes they make their representations are important questions. They are important questions because the media provide knowledge - albeit fragmented and selective - which is crucial in the formation in ourselves and in our children of a sense of self and a view of others.

In the 500 channel universe of the 1990's, there is strong agreement among educators at all levels of the need to help students make sense of extremely sophisticated and persuasive media messages. Media literacy classes focus on understanding how messages are constructed and how they influence values, beliefs and behaviors.

The CRTC has raised the issue of media literacy and, through mention of this in the news, the public has come to a basic understanding of media literacy and of its importance. The question which has not been raised - and which must be addressed - is how can we effectively bring media literacy to the greatest number of Canadians?

This presentation to the CRTC will be in three parts, the first will offer some facts about media literacy in Canada, the second will present the problems that exist, and the third will suggest some practical solutions.

Some Facts About Canadian Media Literacy

01: The definition developed by the Ontario Association for Media Literacy for the Ontario Ministry of Education and accepted by most groups across Canada states that a Media Literate person is one who has an informed and critical understanding of the nature, the techniques, and the impact of the mass media as well as the ability to produce mass media products. A shorter form of this definition could be summed up in the phrase "look carefully, think critically"

02: Media Literacy has been a mandated part of the Ontario high school Language Arts curriculum since 1987 and, with the implementation of the Common Curriculum document, of the elementary and middle schools Language Arts curricula as of the fall of 1995. Ontario is the first educational authority in North America to mandate media literacy within the curriculum.

03: At present other Canadian provinces allow media literacy to be taught as part of various subjects There are two current initiatives in process which will change this picture. These are known as the Western Initiative and the Atlantic Initiative. They involve the development of a common Language Arts curriculum for the Western Provinces and one for the Atlantic Provinces. Both curricula will include a media literacy component.

04: There are media literacy organizations across the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Basically these organizations represent teachers, parents, and media professionals interested in media literacy. The groups help teachers with class materials, offer public workshops on media literacy, and publish newsletters. These organizations are linked together by CAMEO - the Canadian Association for Media Education Organizations - of which I am the president. These organizations are:

- Canadian Association for Media Education of British Columbia
- Alberta Association of Media Awareness
- Media Literacy Saskatchewan
- Manitoba Association of Media Literacy
- Ontario Association of Media Literacy
- Jesuit Communication Project
- Quebec Association for Media Education
- Association for Media Literacy Nova Scotia

05: Canada is recognized internationally as one of the three leaders in the world media literacy movement along with Australia and the United Kingdom the latter have been involved in this area for more than twenty years. Canadian media educators have been keynote speakers and participants at recent media literacy international conferences in Spain and the United States. The work done by Canadian media educators has been recognized by various international awards. Canada's media literacy standing in the world is very high.

06: There is a new service on the Internet - on the World Wide Web - called the Media Awareness Network. It is the first, and only on-line Canadian content clearinghouse (and to my knowledge, the only one of its kind in the world) dedicated to media literacy and to increasing pubic appreciation of the role media play in the lives of children. Leading media educators across Canada have participated in the design of one of the Networks content areas specifically as a resource for media literacy. This will be an important communication link between teachers, students, and the communications industries across Canada.

07: There are a number of audio visual resources developed in recent years by such groups as the CBC and the NFB - whose recently produced Constructing Reality is one of the best teaching resources available on the documentary film. The Alliance for Children and Television in collaboration with Rogers Cable and Health Canada has produced the Prime Time Parent kit which has received an overwhelming response from teachers and parents. The Media Awareness Network has created the Video for Media Education catalogue, which offers one hundred and fifteen English and one hundred French video titles - all reviewed by media literacy teachers across Canada.

08: Ontario teachers have written a number of media literacy text books since 1987 and continue to produce good classroom material. School boards across the country have developed media literacy curricula.

09: The Jesuit Communication Project, of which I am the Executive Director, was set up in 1984 to promote media literacy in Canada. It has a collection of over 4000 books and periodicals on the media, as well as vertical files on media literacy and a large collection of media literacy materials from around the world. It is used by teachers, researchers, students, and the media from across Canada and around the world. Twice a year, it publishes CLIPBOARD - the only international media literacy newsletter - and distributes it to 41 countries.

10: There is good - and growing - cooperation between the media themselves and groups promoting media literacy. A few examples:

  • Warner Brothers assistance in publishing a 1994 media literacy study guide for the animated film, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM , in Kids World Magazine. This guide dealt honestly with the issues of violence in the= movie.

  • YTV's series of lesson plans for teachers and written by media= literacy teachers - YTV News in Class - has dealt with a number of topics including Television and Violence. This lesson plan presents ways of discussing such topics as types of media violence, how to report violence on the news without showing it, and other ways children might have learned violent behavior. It also offers topics for research into the area of media violence as well as suggestions for practical activities.

  • TVOntario has purchased rights to a number of media literacy programs= for teachers and has prepared two interactive satellite broadcasts on media literacy. Both of these were done with consultation from media literacy teachers.

  • CITY TV's weekly series Media Television provides a critical look at various media. This is an important example of original programming about the media. It has a great potential for use by teachers of media literacy.

  • CITY TV, YTV, TV Ontario and Warner Brothers of Canada are working in conjunction with the Jesuit Communication Project and Face to Face Media, an independent Vancouver production company, to produce four hours of clips from Media Television and other shows together with lesson plans written by a media literacy teacher for publication by Harcourt Brace in the spring of 1996.

  • Much Music's program Too Much for Much brings in media literacy= teachers and students along with station decision makers and cultural critics to discuss why certain videos are not being aired.

  • The Cable in the Classroom initiative will make programs available for teachers of media literacy in a way that has not been possible until now.

The Problems

Despite such activities and the obvious growth of media literacy there are major problems in the way of successfully incorporating media literacy into Canadian life. We have identified three major problems:

Isolation and Duplication

We are talking here of a media revolution as profound as the development of the printing press. Liberal education was founded on print comprehension and critical analysis of print texts. To this must now be added media comprehension and critical analysis of media texts. Statistic Canada informs us that the average Canadian spends twenty two minutes a day reading the newspaper, but more than five hours a day listening to radio and watching television. In Canada we are proud of our record of print literacy. We must not raise a generation of media illiterates. However, many media literacy efforts take place in isolation sometimes with a resulting duplication of efforts . A single unifying strategy is needed.

Lack of Funding

There is a failure to realize the urgency to fund such media literacy initiatives. A few examples:

1: The media literacy educational initiatives described above have to face the reality of financial cutbacks. This effects not only the development of curricula, text books, and teaching materials, but also - and most importantly - support for teacher training on all levels. Provincial budget cuts in education makes it very difficult to give media literacy the support it needs - and deserves.

2: As well, if the materials described above which are being developed in conjunction with the Canadian media cannot be purchased for lack of funding, then this initiative will also cease.

3: In this new information economy, when we contemplate developing and sustaining a national media literacy strategy, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to have our efforts facilitated by using, as aggressively as we can, the Information Highway of the Internet. This is what the NFB=92s Media Awareness Network has been designed to offer to Canada. Here I must point out, for the record, that if the Media Awareness Network does not receive funding within the next few months it will cease to exist and Canadians will lose this service.

4: The Jesuit Communication Project holds North America=92s largest print collection on media literacy. This collection supports and provides information for teachers, students and others across Canada. It also serves as a basic source of information and support for the Media Awareness Network. The Canadian Jesuits have themselves suffered serious financial reverses and are no longer able financially to support a number their own works - including the Jesuit Communication Project. This loss of major funding means that the Jesuit Communication Project will either close or move to the United States by the end of the summer of 1996 unless other funding can be found.

5: The various provincial organizations which make up CAMEO have virtually no financial support. They are staffed by volunteers from within each group. The lack of financial support makes any future growth or development of these organizations virtually impossible. Indeed provinces like New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland have found that this lack of funding makes it very difficult to even establish a media literacy organization.

The Impediment of The Intellectual Copyright Laws

To teach about the media, it is necessary to show examples from the media. Canada is now the only country in the western world which does not have a "fair use" clause in its copyright laws to permit teachers to tape material off air for limited classroom use. This must change in the new copyright laws being prepared. CAMEO and other national groups have urged the federal government to make such changes.

I repeat here the recommendation made by Pat Kipping, speaking to the CRTC Moncton consultation as the representative of CAMEO member, the Association for Media Literacy Nova Scotia: "Without waiting for Canadian copyright laws to change - a process which has been ongoing for at least seven years - the CRTC can and must require that all broadcasters and distributors grant free permission to all Canadian teachers and media literacy educators to tape any program off air for educational use according to the limits described in the US legislation." It is possible therefore to allow teachers to tape off-air without abrogating the rights of artists and authors.

One Possible Solution

There has to be a way in which such problems can be resolved. There has to be a way to make media literacy happen and to happen nationally and successfully. CAMEO offers the following suggestion which may bring us part way to doing this.

This suggestion is based on the three primary mechanisms put forward by the CRTC - most recently in the July 27, 1995 letter to those wishing to present briefs to the commission - to deal with the issue of violence and the media. These three initiatives are self regulation by the industry, providing parents with information via a national classification system, and media literacy programs

The three mechanisms should not be looked upon as three separate initiatives but as part of a coordinated comprehensive program of education and classification.

1: A National Media Literacy Strategy

The first part of this program would be the formation of a National Media Literacy Strategy, organized by CAMEO and using the resources of the Jesuit Communication Project as well as the internet services of the Media Awareness Network. This strategy would involve the implementation of media literacy activities including but not limited to those listed below:

[A] The preparation and distribution of regular columns about current television programs, films, videos and video games. Such columns would provide brief summaries of the contents and classifications of the items as well as assessing the suitability for children with regards violence, language, sexuality, and theme. Such information would be distributed through the media - including the internet - and made available at places such as video outlets and public libraries.

[B] The preparation and distribution of study guides for the classroom of current television programs, films, videos and video games. With the cooperation of the Media Awareness Network this material would be distributed to schools across Canada. These would be practical lesson plans which would be used by teachers.

[C] The preparation and offering of media literacy presentations to parents, teachers, students, and community groups across the country. Presentations to teachers could be in the form of in-service or pre-service training as well as evening classes and summer schools. When such presentations have been made across the country, they have been enthusiastically received.

[D] The writing of media literacy curricula and the preparation of materials needed to make the curricula practical.

2: Uniting Existing Initiatives.

The second part of this comprehensive program would bring together two already existing calls for national classification of media materials.

[A] The CRTC has called for a national classification system that would rate television programming.

[B] The motion picture industry has long been interested in the development of a single national Canadian classification system to replace the present system of seven independent rating authorities across Canada. And there have been indications that provincial authorities across Canada would be willing to support a single national classification board if there were a strong media literacy component

Today's system of classification was built when the movies were the only form of video entertainment. It is silent on all other forms of entertainment from television programs to video games.

3: National Classification.

CAMEO proposes bringing these two initiatives together to form a Canadian National Classification Centre.

[A] This Centre would classify and label all the converging multi-media delivery systems - theatrical films and videos as well as television programming and video/computer games..

[B] This Centre would devise a single national classification system for all television programs, films, videos and video/computer games. Such classification would be for the convenience and information of all consumers

[C] The structuring of the Centre and the choosing of those who would do the classification would involve the participation of parents, educators, and media literacy specialists.

[D] The Centre must reflect the regional, linguistic and cultural diversity of the whole of Canada.

4: Finances.

Fees would be levied to groups such as producers, distributors, and broadcasters for the classification and labeling of the television programs, films, videos and video/computer games. Part of these fees would be used to fund the National Media Literacy Strategy run by CAMEO. The remaining fees would fund the National Classification Centre.

5: The Role of the CRTC.

CAMEO urges the CRTC to call on the broadcasting industry to meet with the film industry and the provincial and territorial governments to begin immediate talks about the formation of such a National Canadian Classification Centre and the implementation of a National Media Literacy Strategy.

Such a Centre - together with the National Media Literacy Strategy - would put into place - practically, realistically, and with assured funding - the three primary mechanisms called for by the CRTC - self regulation by the industry, providing parents with information via a national classification system, and media literacy programs.

In Edmonton, Sharon McCaan, who is the representative for the Alberta Association for Media Awareness as well as the Director of the Alberta Film Classification Board, made a presentation to the CRTC commission on September 28, 1995. She said: "It is time we rearranged our priorities to make education more important than regulation. Everyone pays lip service but we don't see many media education initiatives in our Alberta community."

We are far beyond that time when it is enough to say that media literacy is important and that Canadians are aware of this importance. It is time now to put into action something that will ensure that media literacy is available to Canadians of all ages across the country.

There has been much heat and little light cast on this issue to date. The time has come to stop talking and start doing because we know what we need to do. CAMEO urges the CRTC to take prompt action in the direction we have indicated.

Thank you for listening to this presentation on behalf of CAMEO.


John J. Pungente, SJ
Jesuit Communication Project
60 st. Clair Avenue East - Suite 1002
Toronto, Ontario
CANADA M4T1N5

Phone: (416) 515-0466
Fax: (416) (416) 515-0467
E-mail: pungente@epas.utoronto.ca
JCP Home Page:http://interact.uoregon.edu/MediaLit/JCP/index.html

 


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