Importance of media literacy

“Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and communicate using information in all forms.” – Common Sense News and Media Literacy Topic Backgrounder.
With the recent focus on “fake news” and the fact that many of us get our news primarily through social media which isn’t often vetted, the concept of “media literacy” is trending and the media community is responding to this buzz with gusto. My recent experience at the International Visitors Leadership Programme in the United States of America, where we met media from different verticals including traditional and digital, helped us gain a more in-depth understanding of the topic.

“Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and communicate using information in all forms.”

The media consumption appetite has increased drastically and this is also because this information is more available to us in many formats. We consume media in the most easily available format and while this differs from person to person, it is largely now digital. We talk about ‘Fake news’ but the term fake news is vague. News cannot be labeled as fake news if it is unflattering to an organization or individual. Fake news is either misinformation or dis-information. Information today is almost live with social media networks and the power of WhatsApp has been proven in our country time and again with damage done before the authorities can intervene. It’s easy to do this with films or ads but extremely challenging in the case of news. The journalist and media community especially, need to be sensitive to the issue and be aggressive about spotting it. We need to identify fake news and and set it apart from hearsay or slander. The biggest challenge though is how to do this!! My journey in IVLP taught me this process of identification of false news. Here are four sure shot easy ways that every concerned citizen can use to identify fake news:

  1. Check the website. If it is a fake website, you will never find the option of ‘contact us’ on the website. The website will also cease to exist after a few days. The image/video/news could be fake and edited. It can be easily checked by comparing it with similar images on google.
  2. One can also reach out to agencies like Poltitofact, NAMLE to fact check. India has also seen the rise of portals and social media platforms that can help people identify fake news which is a great move.
  3. Tag the person or company in question on the fake news piece on a popular social media platform and get it directly from the horse’s mouth.
    News and information can be always be verified and fact-checked if we are a little conscious, alert and media literate. In my IVL Platform,16 Asian countries participated (China, Russia, Pakistan, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Vietnam, India, Australia) in the ‘Media literacy through Education’ across 4 states in America. We visited almost all organizations working on media literacy along with several media houses and universities. It was an eye-opener on what and how the media has the power to use and abuse our trust and perceptions. Among the 16 Asian countries, India stood out with a laid back attitude on media literacy and awareness. The steps and work done back here can definitely be improved to make the process more productive to improve the quality of journalism, eliminate fake news and make it more relevant for the readers. The most media literate country among these 16 was the Philippines and the least was China.
    In the United States, they have taken this as a serious threat to society hence media literacy classes are being taken at the High school level. Many NGOs such as commonsense, NAMLE and Politofact are working to educate students and parents through workshops on media awareness. A few of the concerned state governments in the US are also planning to introduce this at kindergarten level since children are the most exposed to this and they catch on quick with increased social media usage. I do hope the Indian media community takes up this matter seriously and the government takes adequate measures to introduce it through education forums. Media is the most effective medium if used carefully, let’s be careful now and say no to Fake News.
    I do urge the Indian media community to take up this education as we have seen fake news on the rise in our country too. Not just media and PR pros but also the ‘aam aadmi’ need to now know and understand this to avoid being taken in by fake news floating around. The fact-checking steps shared can be utilized not just by media houses but by you and me as well. So let’s get started.

Minal Pareek
Head of the Department
Sister Nivedita University
Mass Communication and Journalism Department
Kolkata, India