The Importance of Media Literacy

“2017 was the worst year for free speech,” Brian Steffen told his Media Law and Ethics class.

The long-time professor of Simpson’s Multimedia Communications Department was addressing free speech in its’ relation to the media. He made several points on how some cases, like the 1971 New York Times Company v. United States (Pentagon Papers), halted the publishing of war information to the public.

Steffen’s class works to promote media literacy in students- a skill which is more vital than ever in our society full of “fake news”.

“We believe that literacy is important. We believe it is important for people to read well, make sense, and be able to make decisions based on them,” Steffen said.

Steffen said we are exposed to many kinds of digital media and it can be hard to decipher all of the information.

“People need to understand how much of their life is consumed by media.” Steffen said, adding, “They need to ask, “what does media tell me about the world, and how can I use that to shape me, ideologically?””

Steffen says he wants the students in his class to be able to make those decisions for themselves and ask questions about the things they see in the media.

Junior Morgan Frideres is in the class, and is learning how to do this.

“A major part of this course so far has been discussion of the First Amendment and what speech is and isn’t protected. I’ll use this to be critical of media in the future, being able to create informed opinions for myself on certain issues in the country,” Frideres said.

“I think it is more important more than ever, because we live in a nation with high levels of division. We are losing respect for others expressing their views- not just isolated to liberals and conservatives, but everyone,” Steffen said.

Blake Carlson is a Simpson sophomore, and a strong advocate of spreading media literacy. He says this can be done successfully by college students.

“College students have a great opportunity to help those around them discern what is credible and what is not. Backing up this argument with knowledge in the first amendment will help with credibility. Also, showing those close to you what you know. Often college students are disregarded when it comes to the media and politics. Your vote counts just as much as theirs. Prove you are educated,” Carlson said.

Steffen urges people to get out and talk about issues to create more dialogue which will lead to more media literacy in our society.

Media Law and Ethics is a required course for majors in the Multimedia Communications Department, but is open for any major to take.