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Good news and bad news: The emotional side of media literacy
April 16, 2018

The news is rarely told the same way twice. How a news story is framed can play on the audience’s emotions and shape their opinions about current events and social issues. So how can you improve your media literacy to avoid this? Consider the following article about a protest in Sudan:

Protests against chronic water outages in Sudan’s El Gedaref
March 29, 2018 | EL GEDAREF

El Gedaref — On Wednesday morning dozens of residents from the districts of Kirfis, Wadelkabir, and Abbasiya in Sudan’s El Gedaref went out in protest against the chronic interruption of water services.

A resident of El Gedaref told Radio Dabanga that the demonstrators, who were mostly women, marched to the water corporation chanting slogans condemning the interruption of water services and demanding the authorities to expedite the solution.

On Sunday the residents of Kirfis district closed the main road to the vehicles in protest against the total interruption of water.

They expressed concern over the worsening water crisis as summer is approaching and described the promises made by the government to resolve the water crisis as ‘a distant dream’.

This story probably evokes a reaction, but do you know why?

Communications scholars study something called “framing” to learn how the media influence public opinion. Robert Entman, an expert in American political communications, says that framing selects and emphasizes some parts of an event or issue over others and makes connections between those selected parts to provoke a certain interpretation from the audience.

In the example, think about why the reporter mentions that most of the demonstrators were women. How does this fact influence the reader’s opinion of the protest?

Like the frame of a house, a news frame gives shape to a story. Or like the frame around a painting, it displays the subject within a defined border. In other words, it gives the audience a broader context in which to consider the news. This triggers thoughts and feelings in the audience from past experience and knowledge and impacts their personal media literacy.

It is a persuasive measure to lead readers toward a particular understanding of the information they consume. Sometimes framing is intentional, other times it is not intentional, but it always exists. Unintentional framing comes from the news producer’s own point of view.

Frames do not make a story untrue. An article about the protest written from the government’s perspective would frame the story differently. Rather than mention the “total interruption of water” that motivated the protest, the article might focus on the traffic jams the protest caused. Both stories are true, but the change in perspective shifts the reader’s sympathy.

This is why objectivity is highly valued by journalists. It is also why communications scholars will argue that pure objectivity is impossible to achieve, because no news is produced in a vacuum.

Media literacy gives audiences the tools to splice the news from its frames in order to separate emotion and opinion from fact.