That’s a big one. I will bring this topic often because it matters a lot to me how my children will learn to “read” and interpret media in general, TV news and TV programs, specifically. And here I don’t even include modern information technology, internet, social networking, advertising.
1). First of all, I would teach my children to understand the biases of TV. TV is biased because time limits it to give only so much information. Time impedes on coherence and meaning. Within 30 minutes a news program delivers news diluted with advertising. Two minutes may go to the Greek default chaos, followed immediately by 7 minutes on the Queen’s anniversary celebrations and what the princesses wore, back to latest developments in Syria would be squeezed in 47 seconds because the next 10 minutes will be spent on adverts.
2). TV programs and news are owned by someone, written by someone else, and edited by yet someone else. These are all people with interests, biases, beliefs, and perhaps more external pressure over them.
3). News becomes news when someone selects a particular event and decides (for whatever reasons) to make it a piece of news. “Important” news is a judgement we make, or rather, a judgement those who scoop, edit, and deliver the news, make.
4). As Neil Postman in his “How to Watch TV news” says, language is biased. An intended meaning depends on how the language is used. The way news is written is biased precisely because of that. To take Mr. Postman’s example (with a changed name for the purpose of simplicity):
Anna is 180cm tall and weighs around 75 kg
Anna is quite fat
Anna eats too much
The first sentence gives facts by describing the person. There are no implications, no inferences. The second sentence is mainly a judgement, although it still describes Anna, in a way. The third sentence is an inference – the author’s observation and proposition about the unknown based on the known.
5). The advertising – where the money comes from for the TV programs, the values advertising portrays and the effects it can have on those who view them.
There is just plenty of things – based on the points above and with the help of literature like Neil Postman’s and other scientific papers on media use, meanings and influences – that I would teach my children. I will talk to them on all these points with time.
First, because it’s an overwhelming and very important topic. Second, because it will give them the different perspective. Third, because it will give them the skill to analyse and think critically which will make them their own information control towers.