Promoting International Media Literacy: Alumna Sara Gabai

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Born in Naples, Italy, Sara Gabai graduated from JCU in 2010 with a major in Communications and a minor in English Literature. She went on to earn a Master’s in Gender, Media, and Culture at the London School of Economics before moving to Bangkok to work as an intern at the Communication and Information Unit of UNESCO. She is currently Communications Officer, Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) at The Nature Conservancy in Thailand. She is also working on a Ph.D. in Human Rights and Peace Studies.

Alumna Sara Gabai promoting Responsible Forest Management and Trade in Indonesia, Asia Pacific Rainforest Summit 2018

Alumna Sara Gabai (right) promoting Responsible Forest Management and Trade in Indonesia, Asia Pacific Rainforest Summit 2018

Tell us about your current position.
I manage communications for the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT), a partnership of seven leading organizations building the capacity of countries, businesses, and communities in Asia Pacific to practice legal and sustainable forest management and trade.

Our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors towards the environment are shaped by the ways in which we communicate. When we started our digital media efforts, we realized how little the online community in Asia Pacific spoke about forests and the importance of responsible forest management and trade. In designing our impact communication strategy, my goal was to generate wide public engagement in the region by reviving the importance of caring about forests and promoting awareness of their role, locally and globally. We have achieved our goal by using social media to share clear contents our target audience can relate to, telling local stories, and building a sense of community to promote action. In less than one year, we have reached millions of people.

Tell us about the Digital International Media Literacy eBook Project that you co-founded.
One of the major impediments to global media literacy education is the lack of useful educational materials suitable for an international audience. To illustrate, Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages (Art Silverblatt, 4th Edition, ABC-Clio) is a print textbook that has not only been used in U.S. classrooms since first appearing in 1995, but in the classrooms of other countries as well. This has also been the case at JCU, where Silverblatt’s book was one of the key textbooks used in our first ever Media Literacy course.

Through the production of new media literacy educational materials, particularly, e-Books, that are culture and context-sensitive, constantly updated, and in local languages, the DIMLE project marks a new direction in the ways in which media literacy is understood and taught worldwide.

In some countries, DIMLE editions are the very first media literacy resources ever produced! With over 40 countries involved in the project, DIMLE also strives to become the online international hub for media literacy teachers, educators, consultants, trainers, researchers, journalists, professionals, interested in collaborative scholarship, promoting media literacy on a global scale and teaching online, for instance through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

How did JCU prepare you for graduate school/your future career?
JCU adheres to international academic standards and teaching methods. When I pursued my graduate studies and different career paths, I always felt strong and self-confident. The University was not only the portal to my journey of academic knowledge (always enriching, fun, diverse, and multi-disciplinary) but also the place that shaped my personality and character. Even though eight years have gone by since I graduated from JCU, I still engage and collaborate with the professors of the Communications Department. Professor Antonio López, in particular, whom I always introduce to the world as my “media literacy guru,” has been a compass throughout my academic and professional journey. He has always been there to provide intellectual advice, encouraging me to strive for and achieve my highest potential. Today, he is also my Ph.D. advisor.

What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your professional life?
There were many roadblocks on my professional journey. Working in different cultural environments is not always easy; hierarchies often do not allow you to shine and express your talents; decision-making power may be in the hands of people who may know less than you; doors may be closed in your face even though you are the most qualified person for the job. The list is never-ending, but challenges come with learning and growth. Learning how to turn a challenge into an opportunity is one important skill to master.

Tell us about your Ph.D. program. What led you to choose it?
With a strong background in media and communications, and after working several years in the field of media, gender, development, and human rights, I realized that there was a knowledge gap I needed to fill. I chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Human Rights and Peace Studies to respond to my professional and intellectual needs. Hands-on experience is fundamental when working in this field. However, when dealing with conflict and human rights violations, it is of utmost importance to have a solid knowledge of the international laws, mechanisms, and standards in place.

I was accepted by a prestigious university in Italy, as well as the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, of Mahidol University in Thailand. I chose Mahidol University because of its faculty’s extensive knowledge of the subject, as well as fieldwork experience. Media, Human Rights and Conflict is a very under-researched topic; many journalists and media professionals are on the frontlines, and rarely have the time and the opportunity to study the issues in-depth.

After the first Ph.D. year, I started lecturing in several universities on topics such as media, human rights, conflict, peace and security, international relations, and transitional justice. In practice, I had the chance to share and advance the knowledge I have acquired during my years at JCU, graduate studies, and fieldwork experience.

Tell us about your recent publications.
In the upcoming months, a chapter on “The Politics of Representation of Migrants in Italian Media” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in the volume Reporting Human Rights, Conflict and Peacebuilding: Critical and Global Perspectives. My aim was to analyze and discuss the ways in which the media constructs threats and legitimates anti-immigration hostility, and Italians’ public perceptions and beliefs towards migration.

In 2017, a chapter on “Integrating Media Literacy in the Thai National Basic Education Core Curriculum, The Buddha’s Media Literacy Teachings” was published by Communication University of China Press (CUC) in the Chinese-English edition called Multidisciplinary Approaches to Media Literacy: Research and Practice.

What advice would you give to students considering JCU?
During your undergraduate studies, it is important to discover what your passion is and which courses may feed that passion. JCU professors were always helpful and supportive in their role as advisors, guiding me in the right academic choices and making sure those were aligned with my interests and future vision.