Open Access
UNESCO and AU's Media and Information Literacy Course


Open Access
UNESCO and AU's Media and Information Literacy Course

Five Key Concepts for Analyzing Media Messages Online and Offline

4. All media are driven by economic, social and political factors

Most media production is a business and therefore needs to make a profit. Ownership and control can be an issue, considering that a small number of companies control what we watch, see and hear. One way in which for-profit companies try to control media content is called gatekeeping.

Scientists examining something in a lab

Media that is not commercial may be owned or controlled by governments, churches, or not-for-profit organizations. But, even here, the audience must be aware of bias in the media, or the social and political factors that affect media production. The representation of gender,  ethnicity, human rights, famine, and political events are just some of the areas where the point of view of the media can introduce bias. Attempts to control what the public finds in the media can involve censorship and the use of propaganda.

Information creation is also of relevance here. Information creation through formal research studies is done either for the researcher’s personal interest, study or professional requirements, or for payment to support development purposes or commercial interests.   

An important driving factor in many media formats today is sexism and the resulting representation of women and girls. And excellent resource for examining the stereotyping of women in the media can be found in the online resource Mediasmarts, which also offers resources for parents and teachers.

Suggested Activities

1.  Using your search engine, type in “media bias” and then “sexism in the media.” How many sites come up? Which do you consider to be the most reliable? Which do you consider to be balanced in their approach to these issues?
Now, visit media literacy sites such as, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, CITIZENShift, ACME (Action Coalition for Media Education), Adbusters, Women News Network. How do these sites address bias in the media? Which ones will you bookmark for future reference? Can you find other similar sites that you will use or share with family and friends?

2.  Find two different sources for the same news story; whatever this story is about – whether it is a good news story about some accomplishment or a bad news story about conflict, disease, or disaster – choose a story where culture is used as a key factor to explain or justify a point of view. The news story might bring in such factors as race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality. Analyze the story for cultural bias by completing the  Comparing News Sources for Cultural Bias Chart.

3. Research Media Corporations – Use the Internet to research the two biggest media corporations in the world today. What kinds of media companies do these corporations own? Imagine you owned one of these companies and you have just turned a best-selling novel into a film. How could you use the media you own to promote a market for the film?

Photo credit: Science Careers in Search of Women 2009 by Argonne National Labratory CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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