Crit­i­cal think­ing skills can help young­sters sieve in­for­ma­tion in a chang­ing me­dia land­scape

New Straits Times - - News -

IF my fa­ther was still alive, he would have turned 75 years old to­day. He be­gan his ca­reer as a broad­cast jour­nal­ist, and even­tu­ally be­came Ra­dio Tele­visyen Malaysia’s (RTM) deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral.

He was very metic­u­lous and par­tic­u­lar about pub­lish­ing ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on RTM’s news broad­casts.

Even af­ter re­tire­ment, he would sit in front of the tele­vi­sion, sharp at 8pm, to watch the prime time news and mon­i­tor its con­tent. If he found any in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion pre­sented, he would call the news­room and give the edi­tors some sound ad­vice.

I mar­vel at my fa­ther’s rigid­ness in mak­ing sure facts are right. Ad­mit­tedly, some peo­ple found him strict and fussy, and at times, even I could not un­der­stand why he was so par­tic­u­lar about how in­for­ma­tion was framed and dis­sem­i­nated.

Hav­ing worked at RTM, a pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast­ing sta­tion, he be­lieved that it is their re­spon­si­bil­ity to dis­sem­i­nate cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion. Peo­ple, he thought, have the right to be in­formed.

In Malaysia, me­dia, es­pe­cially pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast­ers, have al­ways played a big role in na­tion­build­ing. One of its many roles is to be an agent of so­cial change by dif­fus­ing in­for­ma­tion, which can ben­e­fit the pub­lic so­cially, cul­tur­ally or eco­nom­i­cally. This was quite per­ti­nent af­ter Malaysia gained its in­de­pen­dence and es­pe­cially in the early 1970s, af­ter the May 13 in­ci­dent.

At that time, pub­lic broad­cast­ers were deemed re­spon­si­ble in ex­plain­ing govern­ment poli­cies, to en­sure that they were clearly un­der­stood by ev­ery­one.

More im­por­tantly, the tele­vi­sion sta­tion was ex­pected to stim­u­late pub­lic in­ter­est and opin­ion in or­der to in­cul­cate so­cial change and pro­mote civic con­scious­ness.

The mass me­dia, es­pe­cially tele­vi­sion, was also seen as an ef­fec­tive tool to pro­mote racial unity. In ad­di­tion, since the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Rukun Ne­gara af­ter the May 13, 1969 in­ci­dent, the mass me­dia has been utilised to in­tro­duce and pro­mote the prin­ci­ples to the pub­lic.

Ac­cord­ing to a com­mu­ni­ca­tion scholar, John Lent, in the 1970s, the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter had an­nounced that “dra­mas, mu­sic, dances... etc. aired on TV must re­flect and en­large the aware­ness of the as­pi­ra­tion and de­vel­op­ment of the na­tion in terms of unity and democ­racy, just so­ci­ety... etc. as en­vis­aged in the Rukun Ne­gara”.

How­ever, with the in­tro­duc­tion of pri­vate tele­vi­sion sta­tion TV3 in the 1980s, the me­dia land­scape in Malaysia started to slowly change. If pre­vi­ously tele­vi­sion pro­grammes were mostly cre­ated with the in­ten­tion to in­form, the cre­ation of a com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion sta­tion has ex­tended the role of the me­dia to be­ing a source of en­ter­tain­ment.

Au­di­ences turn to the me­dia as a form of es­capism. In fact, this par­tic­u­lar role is still per­va­sive nowa­days.

Glob­al­i­sa­tion and ad­vance­ment of tech­nol­ogy in the new mil­len­nium has seen the me­dia in­dus­try flour­ish. Con­tents are var­ied, al­beit seg­mented, to meet the au­di­ence’s di­verse needs.

The role of the many me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions has be­come chal­leng­ing and stiff com­pe­ti­tion meant ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion is rac­ing to cap­ture mar­ket share, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously play­ing their role as an agent for na­tion-build­ing.

In ad­di­tion, more and more peo­ple are turn­ing to the World Wide Web to search for in­for­ma­tion — from iden­ti­fy­ing ways to di­ag­nose a par­tic­u­lar dis­ease, to find­ing the best place to eat nasi lemak in Ipoh, and ac­cess­ing Nepal’s weather re­port. The scary thing is, not ev­ery in­for­ma­tion on Web 2.0 is fil­tered for ac­cu­racy, nor are they val­i­dated.

While the many tele­vi­sion chan­nels, ra­dios sta­tions and so­cial net­work­ing sites pro­vide a plat­form to share in­for­ma­tion and voice opin­ions, there is also the risk of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion which may be cul­tur­ally-sen­si­tive or un­true.

How then, can we en­sure that the in­for­ma­tion we share re­spects the ba­sic rights of the pub­lic and de­ter­mine that the texts we read, lis­ten or watch are ac­cu­rate?

Un­de­ni­ably, there are rules and reg­u­la­tions, with re­gard to the me­dia, which help to en­sure the well­be­ing of so­ci­ety.

But, the tricky weaves of the World Wide Web may cre­ate loop­holes that make it po­ten­tially dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late.

Also, there is only so much that the govern­ment can do with the rules and reg­u­la­tions be­cause, ul­ti­mately, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion on me­dia has to be di­gested, decoded and in­ter­preted by the in­di­vid­u­als them­selves.

This is the rea­son why I be­lieve that it is im­por­tant to in­cul­cate the con­cept of me­dia lit­er­acy, es­pe­cially among ado­les­cents.

The pub­lic should be able to re­alise not ev­ery­thing shared by their BFF on Face­book is true. They should be aware that the picture up­loaded on In­sta­gram by a so­cial me­dia celebrity was prob­a­bly taken more than 50 times, be­fore the per­fect pose was pub­lished.

In­for­ma­tion can be spun in var­i­ous ways, to fit one’s agenda. Hence, the so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, should be equipped with crit­i­cal think­ing skills, which will lead them to be an ac­tive au­di­ence — one who is scep­ti­cal and able to sieve through an in­for­ma­tion be­fore form­ing an opin­ion.

The abil­ity to an­a­lyse, eval­u­ate and cre­ate me­dia con­tent re­spon­si­bly, in my opin­ion, will em­power in­di­vid­u­als, cre­ate so­cial change and con­trib­ute to na­tion­build­ing.

The writer is the youngest daugh­ter of Salleh Pateh Akhir. She is in the midst of de­vel­op­ing an on­line course on me­dia lit­er­acy, funded by Eras­mus+, in the hopes of cre­at­ing an ac­tive and crit­i­cal au­di­ence. She is also a se­nior lec­turer at the Fac­ulty of So­cial Sciences and Hu­man­i­ties, Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia

The mass me­dia, es­pe­cially tele­vi­sion, is seen as an ef­fec­tive tool to pro­mote racial unity and na­tion-build­ing.

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