IN our society and culture, our perception of reality is shaped by the information and messages we receive through the media. A few generations ago, our culture storytellers were people, family, friends and others in the community. For many people today, the most powerful storyteller is the Internet and the mobile phone. All of us are affected by advertising, news, movies, Facebook, WhatsApp and other forms of media. That is why today, media is such a powerful force.
Children receive a huge amount of information from a wide array of sources, far beyond the traditional media – ie, television, radio, newspapers and magazines – of most parents. There are text messages, memes, viral videos, social media, video games, advertising and more.
From celebrity gossip to magazine covers to WhatsApp messages to memes, media is telling us something, shaping our understanding of the world and even compelling us to think to act in certain way.
However, all media share one thing: It was created by someone, and for a reason. The digital age has made it easy for anyone to create and spread information. We often do not understand who created the message, why they made it and whether it is credible. Thus, in this digital age, media literacy is an essential skill.
Media literacy helps us to better understand the messages that we are receiving. Media literacy emphasises critical thinking skills that enable consumers to develop independent judgements about media content. Media literate youths and adults are better able to decipher the complex messages they receive from the plethora of media.
They can understand how these media messages are constructed and discover how they create meaning, often in ways hidden below the surface. People who are media-literate can also create their own media, becoming active participants in the media culture.
Through media-literacy, we can deconstruct what we see by figuring out who created the message and why. We can identify the techniques of persuasion being used and recognise how media makers are trying to influence us. We notice what parts of the story are not being told, and how we can be better informed.
Some of the skills that children, youth and adults can learn through media literacy are understanding how media messages create meaning, identify who created the media message, name the tools of persuasion used and, most importantly, recognise bias, spin, misinformation and lies.
In schools, media literacy can be incorporated into existing curriculum. In many subjects, students are already using the media, especially the Internet, to complete assignments and prepare reports. In undertaking these assignments, media literacy can be incorporated to empower students to more critically evaluate the information they access, to enable them to better understand the materials they need and the meaning they convey.
Media literacy would help children become smart consumers of products and information. It helps kids learn how to determine whether something is credible or not. It also helps them to determine the persuasive content of advertising and possibly resist the techniques marketers use to sell products.
Further, media literacy would help kids identify the role of media in society.
Many forms of media seek to create passive, impulsive consumers. Media literacy helps people consume media with a critical eye, evaluating sources, intended purposes, persuasion techniques and deeper meanings.
At the community level, media literacy education is an important tool in addressing alcohol and tobacco addiction, eating disorders, bullying and violence; it is also important in building life skills. The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations strongly hopes the Multimedia Commission invests in more media literacy education to empower consumers to become more critical media consumers.
DATUK DR PAUL SELVA RAJ
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations