Sourbati, M. (2009) ‘Media literacy and universal access in Europe’, The Information Society Vol. 25(4): 248-254.
My analysis introduces a new way of thinking about the interrelationship of media literacy and media access as public policy goals. As a normative value universal access to communications originates in the welfare state; in the post-War Europe universal service provision was institutionalised as a public or state responsibility. In recent years, media literacy has been a focus in national, European and international Information Society policy initiatives, conceptualised in ambitious terms as a way of increasing participation in the economy, culture and polity. Referring to a multiplicity of conceptualisations, practices, modes and purposes of engagement with the media, media literacy is conceived in public policy terms as a learning outcome: a set of inter-related skills and competencies that enable people to meaningfully access and use media and communications technologies for interpreting and acting upon our social world.
Starting from the observation that inherited notions of universal access cannot be applicable in the era of digital, online connectivity this article demonstrates the centrality of media literacy in a broader concept of media access. I conceptualise media literacy as a resource-dependent, and therefore distributed, capability to access and use the media and communications. On this basis I propose a context- and user-sensitive assessment of media literacy that has a bearing for public policy formation and analysis. This assessment takes account of both the technological and the social infrastructure needed to support media ‘consumption’ or use, and the situation of individuals and groups using particular media-enabled services. Combining a critical interest in the socially embedded practices of access to technological/network capability, content services and media skills I highlight corresponding areas for interventionist measures to promote universal service in today’s communications. There are strong links between this analysis and my investigation of ICT (non) use by socially and digitally excluded groups mentioned elsewhere in this portfolio.