The first session has an international orientation, and began with Paul Mihailidis of Hofstra University, who has a wealth of information to share. He talked about his work with the Salzurg Academy on Media and Global Change (yeah, click on it and go there, lots of good resources there, including videos to check out). I thought it particularly interesting that Margaret Mead was involved in the beginnings of the Salzburg Academy, since she was also the first head of the Humanities Division for Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, and her daughter is going to be the next Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecturer (more about that on another post). Anyway, what they do is bring students together from many different countries to work on intercultural communication, and also to create their own curriculum. He noted that their philosophy was to go beyond cynicism about the manipulations of the media, and consider 1. What do media do? 2. How can they do it better? 3. Why are media essential? and 4. How can you be responsible too? His emphasis was on rights, access, and empowerment, on the need for free media for a democratic society, and on being both good consumers and good citizens. And he gave us the 5 A's of media literacy:
1. Access to media
2. Awareness of media's power
3. Assessment of how media portray events and issues
4. Appreciation for the role media play in creating civil societies
5. Action to encourage better communication across cultural, social, and political divides
We then had two talks about Africa. Sister Mary Bosco Amakwe, who comes from Nigeria and teaches at Seton Hall University, talked about how little discussion or even awareness of media literacy there is in Africa, as opposed to the west. Then Holly Morganelli, a graduate of Pratt Institute and former student of David Walczyk, who organized the conference with me, talked about her project in Zambia, "In Transition: Voices of Zambian Street Youth Culture," playing some recordings for us of children from the street, many victims of violence, abuse, AIDS, etc. She talked about how they were interested in hearing their voices, seeing pictures of themselves and their own artwork being mediated, and knowing others will see and hear them.
The last person on the panel was Jordi Torrent, who is involved with the Media Literacy Education Project of the United Nations-Alliance of Civilizations, and is a filmmaker as well, working under the name of Duende Pictures. I should also mention that Jordi organized the first five Media Conversations conferences, all of which were called Media Overseas Conversations, because he had gotten funding from the European Union to bring media education people together in New York City from different parts of the world. Jordi talked about his work with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and their Media Literacy Education Project (and you know the drill, click on the links whenever you care to). He introduced us to the clearinghous they maintain on their website, which is full of resources for media education in numerous languages, and also talked about how they were interested in policy, and connecting grass roots movements with government officials.
Jordi also made a comment about how media ecology deals with a much higher level of discourse than media literacy, which is quite true. And while I myself normally prefer taking on and talking about the big questions that media ecology addresses, it is also refreshing to deal with lower levels where the concern is with practical applications. As the general semanticist Wendell Johnson suggests, it is best to vary your levels of abstraction, rather than engage in dead level abstacting.