Lack of Media Education Threatens Our Democracy

2013-07-27 21:09

I have been one of a fortunate few who are directly involved with the media through my position as the news editor at our university’s student newspaper. At least I know what goes into the making of a newspaper. I make student journalists feel the heat of a newsroom. I somehow control, together with colleagues in the IRAWA Post editorial, what fellow students read, given the editorial jurisdiction.

This reference is to indicate that there are people who dictate what counts as news to us.

There are people who plan an advert to drive us to a specified commercial snare.

So, if we don’t have the skills needed to understand the motives of every news article, video, radio broadcast and advertisement, we are vulnerable as citizens.

The evolution in the media industry from a one-way towards an interactive nature has improved the quality of news and the speed with which news and other media messages are accessed by the public. The advent of Web 2.0 with its unprecedented features of interactivity, compressibility and manipulability enabled everyone to not only be a consumer of media broadcasts but also a producer. Twitter, for example, makes everyone a journalist. Facebook allows everyone to reach thousands of people with a single post. BBM and Whatsapp broadcast messages are forwarded in great numbers within a blink of an eye.

But how educated are we on these platforms?

Do we ever question the credibility of our online sources?

Do we interrogate the motives of every news piece?

Do we even understand the broadcast messages we are forwarding to “100 people in an hour”?

How many of us still believe that something bad is really going to happen to us if we don’t forward that BBM broadcast to 10 people?

Media literacy among citizens is needed so that we can be critical of the messages we come across in different media forms. A media literate citizen is not a passive consumer of news, online posts, video clips, and other forms of communication.

When citizens believe almost everything they read in the newspapers, our media education as a nation becomes questionable and our impressionability levels lamentable.

When young people emulate what they see in advertisements as it is, our ability to intellectually engage media messages is open for questioning.

When Facebook serial rapists somehow manage to victimise girls, then our social media skills need a boost.

When SMSes telling us that we’ve won massive sums of money in competitions we haven’t even entered still result in us generously giving away our banking details and ID numbers, it leaves us with no doubt that we are in trouble as a nation.

The thing is (and I’m saying this with particular reference to the youth), we have grown to become such an easily impressionable bunch of young people who follow trends that we see in the media without seeking insights into the underpinnings thereof.

It seems like everything that is shown in music videos is taken seriously by us, as young people.

Well, I’m not against being youthful and funky. However, all I’m bemoaning is the regrettable loss of our critical minds in the clutter of amusements and fun.

It goes without contestation that the media form a very significant and ubiquitous part of our lives. Every morning our eyes feed on the news. We meditate on what we read. We act out what we watched. We hold discussions about what we heard on radio. In all spheres of our human interactions, the basis of our conversations is established by the media.

The media are in control of public opinion. This is a critical monopoly which poses as a danger when those who consume media messages lack the skill to criticise what they hear. It is in light of that monopoly that I believe a citizenry that is not media-educated is a danger to our democracy. We need to analyse and evaluate messages so that we may discern any propaganda disguised as truth.

It’s during times preceding elections that media literacy becomes even more essential, since both government and the media have a tendency of abusing the low levels of media education by communicating information that is biased in their favour, in the attempt to influence our decision making. For some reason, we always find people who believe the first thing they read without opening themselves up for contradicting, and possibly truer, views. To make informed decisions based on what we read, an analytical mind is needed.

Now that discussions to have ICT used as an aid to learning and teaching in the classroom have begun, the persistent question will have to be formulated around the levels of media literacy among our teachers, especially rural and township-based.

At a young age, pupils should be introduced to the works of the media industry.

We need media education to defend ourselves from being passive recipients of propaganda from government, online opportunists, marketers, and newspapers so that we don’t become victims.

Illiteracy on the internet makes us dangerous to ourselves.

We become “self-endangered species – victims of our own villains”, to borrow a phrase from my soon to be published inspirational novel. Let’s be critical as media users. That way we won’t have victims of scams, worshippers of headlines, and survivors of online serial rapists.

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