Why is it Important to be Media Literate?


“Whoever controls the media controls the culture” – Allen Ginsberg

Gone are the days when people would wait days to get news. With the onset of globalisation, even a remote vale like Kashmir is now well connected with the rest of the world. Media, which was once restricted to a few newspapers and a single news channel, has seen rapid growth as well. Today, besides conventional media, social media has become a huge platform for circulating news. In my grandmother’s words, “News today travels faster than birds.” 

In a time when media surrounds us 24×7, it is very easy to let it dictate our every move. According to a study, an average person nowadays spends more than 8 hours a day surfing the net. While having every kind of information at our finger tips is a huge boon, it is also very easy to get overwhelmed by the huge flood of information. Without any critical ability to analyse and evaluate the news which is constantly circulating around us, it is very easy to be manipulated and end up making choices which have lifelong repercussions.

In an era where media not only keeps us informed but also tells us what to eat, wear and even think, it becomes essential to have an ability to distinguish media’s version of truth from the actual truth. Since the media is here to stay, completely ignoring it is not possible. One needs to at least develop a protective armour to save oneself from manipulations. This armour is media literacy. Media literacy, if taken in the literal sense, means enabling the people, especially adolescents and youth who are most vulnerable to manipulation tactics, to access, analyse, evaluate and produce media. It doesn’t mean media bashing and criticising. Rather, it means empowering us to raise the right question. Media literacy is now being referred to as the fifth estate that evaluates all the four estates; Judiciary, legislative, executive and most importantly media. It powers us with a critical ability so that we can decipher everything including what doesn’t meet the eye, thus protecting us from easy manipulation and being tricked into believing everything. It teaches us to question whether what is being portrayed as right and wrong by the media is actually so. It enables us to separate the media’s version of truth from the actual truth.

Most of us today are so influenced by the media that we sometimes forget that the news reports we assume to be true are constructed and created by some people sitting in a news room. Many times, we don’t even realise how we are being manipulated to perceive an image or a news item in a certain way. For example, in my childhood, the only source of entertainment was the stories that our parents or grandparents narrated at bedtime. These days however, even my small cousins watch at least 2 hours of television every day. Recently, while spending time with them, I too ended up watching their favourite cartoon show and shockingly realised how this particular show had influenced the way they spoke and dressed. One of my cousins said it is only the girls who do chores and his explanation was that in his favourite show, the mother and sister do all the work while the men of the house only lounge around watching TV. I realised how, even in an age of women empowerment and gender equality, we were exposing our kids to the same ideology we struggled to get rid of. Had the parents of these kids been media literate, they probably would have realised the subtle sexism and racism in these shows. Not only kids, even adults are letting media dictate the way they live. A certain brand of food is preferred because the media says it is better than other brands. A certain foot wear is better because of course the advertisements never lie.

In an age where the media even determines who is fat and who is thin, being able to retain our own identity becomes very important. Thus being media literate becomes even more essential. Media should be a tool to keep us informed. It should not become the book we live our lives by. Everyone is unique and this uniqueness is what makes us special. So rather than running after a certain type, we should learn to be ourselves. Every one of us should know when to stop feeling what the media wants us to feel, do what the media wants us to do and be what the media wants us to be.

In a country like India, where the media is quite famous for running trials based on unverified and even doctored information, being media literate becomes even more essential. In the recent JNU controversy, media, which is labelled as the guardian of the people since it becomes the voice of the helpless, played a very negative role. Innocent students were made scapegoats and termed as terrorists on the basis of a few video clippings which turned out to be doctored and fake. This only proves that there should be someone to guard even the guardians because if left unquestioned, they can create havoc. In the above example, not only were the innocent students victimized but a divide was created in the society on the basis of ‘nationalists’ and ‘anti-nationalists’, two terms which the media defined.

What happened in the very recent Brussels attacks also proves how essential it is to be media literate in today’s time, although the exploitation in this case wasn’t intentional. The image of the lady sitting with a bloodied face and torn clothes, which became the face of the attack and was used widely by the media throughout the world, was criticized by many. Many people believed that in their hurry to put across their message, media often becomes desensitized to other important issues. The lady in the photograph herself didn’t realise that she was being exploited until she was made aware of the consequences it was going to have on her life. The media will move on to a new image tomorrow but since the internet has a long memory, the lady will always be remembered and may never be able to lead a normal life again.

Thus in today’s time, when we are living our life online day and night, being able to save ourselves from exploitation and being able to analyse things properly becomes very important. Like they say ‘Awareness is the first step of change.’ But with awareness comes responsibility, a responsibility to protect and be protected.



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