Media effects and literacy

Marcia Henville

Marcia Henville

I hold firm to my original position that the media has limited power to shape my beliefs. As Dr. Anthony Curtis (2012) highlights in his article, I, like many others, ‘trust the media as an authority for news, information, education, and entertainment’. Consequently, I continue to follow local and international newspapers and television channels such as the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Express and Newsday, New York Times, TV6, CNC3, CNMG, BBC, CNN and ABC, along with a few local journalists on Twitter where I get breaking news.  However, I continue to watch local and international news on the television and read newspapers to get more details and confirmation of news stories. On the morning of Saturday 24 January, 2015, a well regarded local journalist, Marcia Henville, was murdered by a relative in a domestic violence incident, and I did not know about it until a friend informed me later that evening.  I had not checked Twitter or local news because I was busy that day.  I was in such disbelief that I had to see it in the newspapers to believe that it was true.

Nevertheless, I reiterate that media in all its forms do have the power to shape my beliefs, but the power is limited, not absolute.  Many other factors continue to shape my beliefs; for example family, friends, religion, education and life experiences.  For example, advertisements alone do not sway me to make purchases.  I switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone because of recommendations from friends and observing firsthand its advantages.  I seldom buy based on the persuasion of an advertisement.  However, I concur with the Media Literacy Project’s view that while few people believe everything that they see or hear in the media, and are influenced by advertisements to go out to make purchases instantly, the influence of the media is subtle and we all need to safeguard ourselves against the persuasive powers of writers.


E.B. White

E.B. White in a 1969 interview outlines very clearly the role of a writer, which I wholeheartedly believe “A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life” (Popova, 2012). The role of writers is indeed multifaceted and significant, whether in traditional or new media.  White, like many theorists and researchers, believe that writers could influence and shape life for better or worse.  Therefore it is essential for them to act ethically.   In earlier years, writers were controlled by editors and the news agencies for which they wrote, but with the advent of new media and the dawn of citizen journalists, checks and balances have diminished and everyone is more concerned with being the first to break the news rather than being accurate.  Consequently, writers do not double and triple check sources before publishing, broadcasting, tweeting or posting, and as a result many people have suffered due to erroneous reporting.

Nikki Haley and parents

Governor Nikki Haley and parents

The society of professional journalists warns writers to minimize harm, yet we have numerous examples of writers disregarding that guideline and not seeking the truth.  When writers do not act ethically the public is in danger.  An example of this is blogger, Ian Smith, posting on March 29, 2012, that South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, was about to be indicted on tax fraud charges.  This was untrue and a defamation lawsuit was filed against Smith.  Nonetheless, Smith’s slanderous post tarnished the reputations of Haley, her parents and their place of worship (Hall, 2013).  An apology more than a year later was simply useless.  Smith aptly exemplifies Ward’s view that “many online journalists see themselves as partisans or activists for causes or political movements, and reject the idea of objective or neutral analysis”.  As a result they abuse freedom of speech and act irresponsibly and recklessly.  National elections in Trinidad and Tobago are due this year, 2015, and no doubt, we will endure similar folly at the hands of our journalists, both traditional and new media.

Ironically, instead of setting the example as far as ethical reporting, traditional journalists often fail to double check their sources too and have reported erroneously.  In 2013 when an Asiana Airlines flight went down, the television anchors for KTVU broadcast racist and inaccurate names, for the pilots and crew on the missing airline‘Captain Sum Ting Wong and Wi Tu Lo”.  Their defense was that they got these derogatory names from the National Transportation Safety Board who in turn said that a summer intern had confirmed the names (Daniel & Davies, 2013).  How could so many people be so easily duped, when clearly the names were false? Despite immediate apologies, the damage and insult to the Asian community were already done.  The code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists seems simple enough: ‘seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently and be accountable and transparent’ (SPJ, 2015), yet so many writers find it difficult or refuse to adhere to these guidelines.

Due to these challenges, it is imperative that content consumers become media literate, so that we can reduce the potential to be influenced.  However, because we are so bombarded by media every waking moment, it is impossible to eliminate its influence completely.  By following Kovach and Rosensteil’s classifications, I am better able to differentiate among journalism of verification, affirmation, assertion and interest group journalism (2011).  On the other hand, since we have our own biases and preferences, we ourselves are sometimes blind to the subtle persuasion inherent in various media, or consciously give in to it. As media literate people the onus is on us to determine whether or not the entire story is being told, to analyse the text and subtext of the story and the writers intended audience.  Being aware and following the aforementioned guidelines from the Media Literacy Project would certainly help us to form our own opinions and make decisions independently, rather than succumb to agenda setting media, which some theorists purport, tell us what to think about (Baran, 2010).


Baran, S. (2010). Introduction to mass communication: Media literacy and culture (6th Edition). New York, New York: McGraw Hill

Curtis, A. (2012, June 23).  Mass media influence on society. University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Daniel, J & Davies K. (2013, July 13). ‘Oh ****’: Moment TV producer realized bungling reporters had been duped into reporting false and racist names for the Asiana crash pilots. Retrieved from–TV-Producer-tweets-moment-realises-error.html

Hall, R. (2013, November 14). Idiot’ Blogger Finally Apologizes for False Report He Posted During 2012 Election.  Retrieved from

Media Literacy Project.  Introduction to media literacy.  Retrieved from

Multimedia Desk. (2015, January 30). Goodbye Marcia: Funeral held today for television personality.  Retrieved from

Popova, M. (2012, April 17). E.B. White on the Responsibility and Role of the Writer. Retrieved from

Society of Professional Journalists. (2015). SPJ Code of ethics. Retrieved from

Ward, S.  Digital media ethics.  Retrieved on January 31, 2015 from

Pictures and video

E.B. White’s picture. Retrieved from

FULL Asiana Flight Prank Viral Video and KTVU Apology.  Retrieved from

Macria Henville’s picture. Retrieved from


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