IFC Looks To Raise Nation’s Media Literacy

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IFC this week will launch a series and public-affairs campaign, both of them designed to raise the level of media literacy in this country.

The project may have the added benefit of lowering the demographic age of the channel's viewership, as the IFC Media Project is targeted at college-aged viewers. Currently, the network's typical viewers are between the ages of 18 to 49, with a strong core of men 18 to 34, according to executives. The effort should draw in more 18-to-34-year-old viewers, they said.

The campaign was inspired when the channel televised the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which outed the members of the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America, described its perceived biases and outlined the secretive way it reviews producers' appeals of movie ratings. That got channel executives thinking about the lack of media literacy in this country, IFC and Sundance Channel president Evan Shapiro said.

U.S. consumers spend 70% of their time tethered to electronic devices, consuming information, Shapiro asserted, yet most are unaware of how news and information are collected and communicated, nor do they cast a critical eye on the source of that material. By contrast, people in other countries are taught media literacy in school, he said.

IFC was considering a pro-social campaign when the producers of a six-week series on media literacy approached the network.

“It was a perfect collision,” IFC TV executive vice president and general manager Jennifer Caserta said.

The series, titled IFC Media Project, will debut Nov. 18. It is produced by HonestEngine TV, Meghan O'Hara (Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko) and Nick McKinney (The Daily Show With Jon Stewart). It is hosted by veteran MTV and CBS news reporter Gideon Yago, and will run each Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The first episode will discuss the lack of coverage for disappearances of non-white adults, as opposed to the media frenzy around the kidnapping of Utah teen Elizabeth Smart; and the supportive treatment of Israel and its politics by major media.

The day of the debut, the network will host its first related town hall event in New York, a panel discussion including Arianna Huffington, William Kristol, Pete Hamill and Christopher Buckley. The pundits will discuss how the media shaped the debate in the recently concluded national elections. IFC intends to do two more “I on the Media” town halls, in Philadelphia and Boston, in December in support of the initiative.

IFC is developing the campaign content in conjunction with the Media Education Lab at Temple University, the Aspen Institute Communications in Society Program, and National Association of Literacy Educators.

The channel will also launch a media literacy Web site, where viewers can take a quiz to test their media savvy.

The executives said they intend to turn the initiative into a local ad sales or consumer sweepstakes campaign during 2009.

IFC will promote viewership of the series with Web ads and grassroots marketing on the Web, in order to attract the target, younger viewers.

“In this election, younger voters had a huge stake. If we have a hand in shaping our audience, promoting a more discriminating look [at news], then we've done our job,” said Caserta.

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