The presence of media in our lives is extensive. Take a look around you and observe all the various forms of media available. When are we not really surrounded by some form of media? According to Statista Research Department (2021), there are more than 143000 registered newspapers and periodicals across India. Around 210 million households own a television and 744 million users access the internet using mobile phones(Sandhya Keelari, 2021). There is a penetration rate of 54% for smartphones in India.
An important question arises in this age of saturated information and intense political situations – Are we as media literate as we should be? Before coming to the importance of media literacy, let us look at its proper definition. Media literacy has been defined as the ability to access, analyze and evaluate the power of images, sounds and messages which we are now being confronted with daily and are an important part of our contemporary culture. It also refers to being able to communicate competently in media available on a personal basis. Media literacy basically refers to how much a person can identify the different types of media and understand their messages. These can be television, radio, print, advertisements, memes, video games, etc. Understanding the objective or goal of the author/creator of a media is the basis of media literacy. Media literacy is an essential topic of study, particularly for the youth, for the following reasons:
For Gaining Right Information:
Media literacy helps you access and understand new information, ideas, and perspectives. Media helps us collect data which can be very useful for school or work. A common example is how all students now go to the internet first when a project or presentation work is given to them. It helps them find out what they had missed before.
However, we must also be able to understand when inaccurate or wrong information is presented to us. As the media bombard us with information from all sides, finding the right data may be difficult. Media literacy helps us identify reliable sources. While misinformation has been a prevalent issue for years, it has become even more evident during the lockdown periods of the COVID-19 pandemic. Misinformation has caused both minor and major social and health issues in the country. Misinformation refers to wrong or inaccurate information spread unintentionally. A vast majority of forwarded messages in your family groups on Whatsapp would fall into this category. Disinformation, on the other hand, is false information propagated intentionally. People must be made aware of the nuisance of misinformation and disinformation. They should develop a skepticism towards digital information but not to the extent that they lose their natural curiosity.
We need to be able to critically analyze the media presented to us. This means that on watching a news report, we should understand how the reporter has framed the news and if there is an underlying purpose or bias in the report. Media literacy also helps us recognize how biased media can affect our perceptions of an event or issue. In a country like India, almost all the media we are exposed to can be politically-charged. Directly or indirectly, most newspapers, television channels and media houses are affiliated with some political group or their views. This bias is not right or wrong as long as it is not the deciding factor above everything. Whether it is right or not, we as consumers should be able to recognize various perspectives presented by the media and respond rationally. This also applies to social media posts. Someone who has good media literacy skills can spot paid promotions or advertisements on social media and television.
Media literacy is an area of education that should be given more significance in India. It should be taught so that on exposure to any kind of media, people can find the answers to the following queries on their own:
- What is the correct source of this message?
- What creative techniques are used to grab my attention?
- How might different people understand this message from me?
- What values and points of views are represented in or avoided from this message?
- Why are they sending this message?