Deconstructing Media Messages
Marshan McLuhan, the renowned philosopher of communication theory had rightly said in 1969, that humans live in constructed media environments as unconsciously as fish in water. This statement holds more relevance to us now than it must have to others few decades ago. We are living in an age where we are continuously exposed to several media messages, simultaneously and sometimes sickeningly.
No doubt, that this development in communication technologies has helped humans to evolve, communicate better and discover new avenues but at the same time it has also lead to issues that we are not prepared for. If you read and interpret the statement by McLuhan written some 46 years ago, you would come to realise that the ‘water’ has several benefits and impurities. Just like the way we use water filters at home, similarly we also need to filter media messages before they reach our subconscious mind and impede analytical power, leaving us like a dear in headlights.
Indisputably, media has brought significant positive change in our lives but at the same time the abuse of media has had an adverse effect too. These days it is common to hear from people, especially distressed parents, who complain about their children for being too much indulged in mobile phones, video games and social networking websites. The younger generation feels that it is the generation gap and all the things that they are indulged in is a necessity instead of a problem. We are so much mechanized into the communication world that we fail to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate the messages that are being fed in our minds. Getting easy access to media messages, like being able to use Internet on computer, use mobile phones, or having a facebook account isn’t really media literacy. Rather, how you decide that a particular website is trustworthy, or an advertisement’s claim are valid, or the news that your watching is paid, are some of the traits of media literacy. Media literacy means the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in variety of forms. According to European Commission 2006, “media should help citizens recognizes how the media filter their perceptions…empower them with critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make them judicious producers of information”.
‘Love me or hate me, but you can not ignore me’: however clichéd it may sound, but nothing is best to describe the true nature of present media scenario than the above line. According to the report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), there are more than 243 million mobile Internet users in India. With such an overwhelming number of Internet users in India, it is essential that we know what we are watching or reading.
Have you ever wondered how many advertisements we are exposed to in a day? Researchers across the globe have found that the exposure to advertisements can range from 3,000 to 20,000 per day! The numbers on the higher side indicate not only ads but also include even a label in a grocery shop, all ads in your mail box whether you see them or not, the label on anything that you wear, the cars on the road, labels on the packed food that you eat and so on, as far as you can imagine. Well, that is quite an overwhelming number.
Christopher Lasch, a renowned American historian and social critic has rightly said, “The effect of mass media is not to elicit belief but to maintain the apparatus of addiction”. This sense of addiction is developed through repetitions, teasers, similar visuals, and of course social media, being top on the list. If you are one of those who can’t resist checking social media updates every other minute, then beware! Social networking websites is another form virtual world created by the media, having both pros and cons. Media is always constructing some kind of reality for us whether we accept it or not. A recent report on social media shed light on new kind of a health issue called FOMO (fear of missing out) caused due to addiction to social media. Health experts call it a form of social anxiety where one feels pressurized to share everything on social media to show how much fun one is having.
Media literacy is a growing field that intents to make media consumers aware of their media messages and increase critical thinking about media’s constructions of reality. The consumers should also be aware of media ownerships, corporate and political control, media economics and laws governing the industry. To put it more simply, who owns the media shapes the news and journalism. A person who is media literate should know that media constructs reality based on perceptions. Secondly, media is a form of business. Thirdly, it has ideological and political implications and lastly receivers constantly negotiate meaning in media. All these aspects require some amount of set values skills, attitudes and understanding of media theories.
According to the media researchers, media consumers may approach news content with a healthy skepticism when they know more about the authors’ commercial motivations, where the news comes from, and who is ultimately behind the production of news content. In other words, media literacy makes the people more democratic rather than simple consumers of information.
NDTV has recently started with a very good new inititative called ‘School TV’, a Video Educational Programme that aims to develop media skills and foster creativity among school children. Indeed a very promising and pioneering initiative giving a platform to school-children to wallow in innovativeness. What would have made it even more responsible is the initiative to teach them media literacy. To make them learn how to cope with the information overload. How to critically understand and evaluate media messages. If we make a child learn how to make a robot and not tell him about the different task it can do, then such training is incomplete.
Training children on using media skillfully should also be accompanied with the knowledge of how media impacts, how should one evaluate media text and respond. Just like schools have subjects on history, geography, mathematics, science etc, similarly, it is high time that we introduce a course on media literacy for school going children. This will help them become conscious consumers of media messages and hence responsible global citizens. If we can allow them to have latest gadgets, watch television under no guidance, have facebook accounts and so on, then we should also teach them to do critical analysis of the same.
For instance, the Dabour ad claims that Dabour Chawanaprash provides thrice more power and immunity to fight diseases, without giving any validity. Similarly, vim ad claims the power of lemon but actually there is no lemon but it is just a flavor of it. ASCI (Advertisement Standards Council of India) has held up many such complaints including those against horlicks, good night, napdeal, phillips electronics, vim, bajaj allianz, coca cola and many top leading brands. Infact, it encourages consumers to report on misleading and factually incorrect ads by submitting their complaint on online. In February 2015, it received a total of 167 complaints out of which 73 were regarding lifestyle and health while the rest were misleading advertisements.
Media messages sometimes have negative repercussions on the impressionable minds, which leads to low self-esteem, violent behavior, biased opinions and above all disordered lifestyle and bad eating habits. One should remember that media is a business industry which is in a way investing in our lives with fabricated perceptions and random values. At the receiving end the audience has to be more interactive than passive when dealing with these messages. However, media literacy doesn’t mean that you start bashing at media and then stop watching it! Media literacy means to watch carefully and think critically. If you look at the ad of an educational institution offering 100% placement, or a fairness cream promising you better job and marriage, or a soap offering 10 times more protection, then it is time that we ask questions on what we watch, hear and read. Or you may continue to wait for another Maggi Episode to mend your ways!