With the gradual advent of digital and social age shouldered by the rapid growth of internet and telecommunications, media literacy has also seen skyrocketing growth. The conjecture whether media literacy is the only solution lies in the question itself. The irony is that media literacy is not even a solution. The solution lies in not only engaging with the media but also engaging society through the media. Well, having said that, media literacy is a mandate in order to understand and educate about what is happening around the world. This is what makes media literacy a difficult choice and a meretricious attempt to solve the problem.
- Empowerment through media literacy
Media literacy education only encourages people to ask questions about what they read, hear or see. Asking the right questions contribute an important part of the whole process. But asking questions is only a part of the whole solution. The real heroism lies in resolving the problem and implementing the solution.
In a democratic country like India, media is allowed to interfere, raise voices, broadcast protests if they find conflicting events in the country. This is where media literacy needs to be deeply implemented. The quandary of disinformation can only be addressed through media literacy, but a distorted version of media literacy leads to even faster promotion of misinformation. The malevolent effects of misinformation are way more heinous compared to disinformation.
- Influence on Media freedom
The concept of addressing authoritarian political movements through public media literacy is neither full proof nor failsafe, because of the disorganized course outline. It specifically needs to include the cognitive impact of social media and internet use. So, the current initiative requires improvisation to increase effectiveness before catering to public interest, as a distorted or erroneous version of education might lead to insidious output.
In any case, a media literacy programme is a good attempt to spread awareness among the public to navigate the digital media environment. But without proper media literacy education, such events might backfire due to lack of ability among people to judge critically about the genuineness of any information. How many times really do we see an article, a video, a photo or any other form of news post not dovetailed by political influence?
- Conspicuous Incidents
This is a place where lies play and control the whole ball game while truth fights for justice. Integrity accompanied the ability to take accountability of an action performed by an individual is the panacea to this big debate. Asking for a hundred percent integrity anywhere in the world is a utopian scheme. But the pangs prick deeper depending on the levels of corruption. A great example would be the mourning of the then prime minister on “Batla House” incident which at later stages, after being proved to be only terrorist counterattacks, has been utilized subsequently by other political parties of the country to draw inferences and used them to reap benefits. Another such incident of global level was the Chernobyl, which amazingly, after its scathing devastation showed a death toll of only 31.
Projects in Singur and Nandigram were abandoned as the land acquisition was portrayed as so big an elephant in the room as to change the political scenario of a state. Digital and Social media metastasized the news like wildfire and gained sympathy, but not empathy, of countrywide population. Without hurting the interests of project affected population, it is quite evident that a few basic questions should have been asked.
- Was adequate compensation provided to all the project affected families?
- How important and agriculturally productive were those lands?
iii. How much employment to those people could the project create?
- How important was the project from macro-economic perspective?
The effect of abandoning such big projects on the financial health of a state, the possibilities of growth that were traded off were hardly ever pin-pointed through media. The employment opportunities lying at the backdrop of the project was never highlighted through digital or social media. Isn’t it quite evident that the reason behind, is not due to lack of media literacy? But these questions could only come through promulgating financial literacy, economic literacy, political literacy and awareness about the greater good that the project could provide. On the flip side, media zeroed in on showing only the negatives of land acquisition and the cost-benefit analysis never saw daylight.
- Sarcastic reality
At school levels, all these subjects, being shoehorned as second-tier courses into an already overburdened curriculum, exacerbate the circumstances. It is not happenstance that the outcomes are lookalikes of fools of highest standards.
Media literacy is the most recommended solution as it is ostensibly easy to practice while the truth, easier said than done, lies underneath. The world is already firefighting with the unknown unknowns arising out of digital and social super-literacy. The icing on the cake is instead of imparting Management Information System (MIS) literacy, the business world is inundated with “mis-literacy”.
- Way forward
However, one must learn to envisage and appreciate the brighter side of media literacy. It is through media only that we can reach to people at the remotest villages of India. They develop the last mile connectivity to the poorest population of the country. They highlight the sensible topics to turn them into burning ones.
For the last seventy-three years since independence, India has been docketed as a developing country. But if we really look at the growth rates, the countries which have been earmarked as developed countries are actually developing at a rate faster than us. Our valedictorian policy-makers and demi-gods of development might care to provide special attention to the eradication of illiteracy, rather than only discussing the educational budget. Keeping both the sides of the coin in mind, media literacy must be juxtaposed with financial, economic and political literacy, to ensure continuous and faster development of the country as a whole.
Talking of social and digital literacy, an indispensable supplement to media literacy, doubts the very elixir called ‘basic education’, found as a silver bullet to our nationwide illiteracy issue. With technology advancing at breakneck speed, basic education is not enough to cope up with. India hardly has awareness about cutting-edge technology and their applications utilized around the globe. So, the country still depends on developed nations to dispose of their leftover or outdated technologies. This awareness cannot mushroom through basic education, rather it requires dedicated courses on media, social and digital literacy.
The problem grows acute when we disclose that media literacy is exorbitant and is considered only to be under the forte of the affluent. So, it can only be fostered through Government initiative to educate people in the domain of media, economic, political, digital and social literacy.
It is dispiriting that while India aims at becoming a global economy, the percentage of digital literacy barely touched double figures. Importance of digital literacy have implications beyond access to Government services and the right to internet access with digital literacy could redeem us of the inextricable pangs of media illiteracy.
What is unlearnable cannot be taught, what is illegible cannot be lucid. Fathoming out alternatives to media literacy is a Herculean task but not impossible. A conundrum that might cause things to go haywire while attempting for all supplements to media literacy is the extravagance of the package.
The solution requires a well-thought-through approach, pedagogical strategies, and continuous endeavour. A one-shot campaign would not be enough to improve the health of media literacy. The solution is no magic potion and needs to be evaluated in the lights of learning outcomes.
But with continuous attempts, the whirlwind might suffice in creating enough furore as to provide a new impetus of change towards a complete package of literacy rather than a bangarang over media literacy exclusively. At the end of the day, holistic development of an individual is possible only through holistic erudition. And with holistic growth of individuals, the growth of the country’s literacy rate will truly increase.