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Media literacy in Southeast Asia: a systematic review

In the context of a media-saturated world with information and communications technology advancement, the role of media literacy has become more prominent for all demographics and professions to leverage and take advantage of. Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, and produce media in various formats to reach the critical autonomy of all types of media. Impacts of media literacy were found on a multi- and interdisciplinary stance from information science, education, technology to humanities, sociology, and human development, to name a few. Moreover, it is also a crucial tool and right for citizens to engage in society and for the government to regulate participative citizenship.

Therefore, the role of media literacy is essential to the development of political, social and cultural consciousness of citizens regarding the fact that media consumption has all-time peaked in usage across Southeast Asian countries.

While the number of research on media literacy has substantially increased over time globally, it remains unclear how the landscape of media literacy research particularly in Southeast Asia. So far there has not been any attempt to systematically review the phenomenon on a regional level, especially when the media consumption, especially new and digital media, of the region maintained growing remarkably and caused a massive effect on the population. Therefore, this study aims to explore the landscape of media literacy research in Southeast Asia to outline the contemporary context and theoretical gap of the phenomenon through a systematic review.

The study adopts the modified procedure PRISMA (Preferred Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis) design for literature systematic review. In the identification stage, the study chose to collect the data on Google Scholar using one or a combination of keywords: media literacy, Southeast Asia, and country names (N=298). In the screening stage, 42 collected papers without full text were excluded (N=256). For the eligibility, paper abstracts were assessed based on three criteria: published between 2009 to 2023; studied in one of the 11 Southeast Asian countries; and had one of the following format: journal articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings. Publications in the search that did not fit into these criteria were excluded from the dataset (N=113). In the inclusion stage, full text papers were examined in terms of research topic, design, research country, and research object to explore common discourses and knowledge in Southeast Asian countries’ media literacy, in which 8 sub-themes were developed based on the author’s elaboration.

Figure 1: Findings from a systematic review of media literacy in Southeast Asia.

Findings from a systematic review of media literacy in Southeast Asia

Source: Author

Besides descriptive analysis illustrated through Figure 1, there are some prominient points to acknowledge regarding contemporary knowledge on Southeast Asia's media liteacy. In quantitative ressearch, empirical methods such as descriptive, factor, regression and different types of inferential analyses were the most prominent ones among all methods (34.51%), while in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were most utilised particularly among qualitative methods (16.81%). Research on media literacy in Southeast Asian countries also saw a noteworthy gap between the member countries. At the same time, research targets of the topic highly emphasised the education sector with 48 papers investigating students of all levels and 12 papers investigating educators. Another prominent observed target was professionals, workers, and experts both within and outside the media sector with 15 papers examining the group. The studies shared a number of commonalities under 8 elaborated sub-themes:

  • Literature on the historical and social context of media literacy in a Southeast Asian country

  • Assessment of media literacy level of particular demographics, professions, or characteristics

  • Media literacy in education, regarding the usage of media literacy skills and implementation of new media technologies in teaching and learning

  • Media literacy as a source of impact on political issues such as participative citizenship, citizen journalism, and elections

  • Media literacy as a source of impact on media-based social issues, including misinformation, cyberbullying, and cybercrimes

  • Media literacy as a tool for micro- and macro-enhancement such as improvement in working skillsets, increase in environmental awareness, health-aware behaviours, business development, and economic growth

  • Case studies on regulations, interventions and programmes to enhance media literacy skills

  • Theoretical framework and scale development to quantitatively and qualitatively investigate media literacy

Media literacy has grown to become a more prominent field of research for Southeast Asian researchers regarding the increase in research quantity. However, in a constantly changing mediascape in a modern technological-based context, there is a noteworthy gap in efforts to explore media literacy in a longitudinal research design, therefore how media literacy evolves in Southeast Asia remains to be yet fully discovered. Although media literacy plays a prominent role in economic and social growth in the Southeast Asian context, countries with weaker economies in the region such as Brunei, East Timor, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar with no research and/or investigation recorded significantly lack efforts to improve the publics’ media literacy as a means for development from citizens’ better skills, mindset and less involvement in media-based crimes.

A starting point for researchers aiming to explore these countries is to explore the 8 common sub-themes for exploration and cross-country, interdisciplinary comparison in existing literature as the countries in the region shared a variety of similarities in historical and cultural contexts that affected media usage in general and media literacy in specific. Moreover, media literacy has evolved from a range of disciplines to become a fractured field with competing frameworks, visions, schools of thought, discourses, practices, and ever-evolving, unsolved debates.

In current Southeast Asian studies on media literacy, a limited understanding from the education-based viewpoints inhibits a diverse and multi-perspective approach to comprehend and utilise media literacy, especially when its impact far exceeds the sphere of education to the fields of politics, economy, and humanity.

In conclusion, media literacy research in Southeast Asia portrays a few distinct characteristics with room to explore and expand knowledge for a comprehensive contribution to the multi-faceted development of the region.     

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