A knowledge of the basic principles of media technology, and the awareness to be able to exercise caution and accuracy in benefiting from it, are today considered part of ‘media literacy’ – much like a knowledge of the basic principles of reading and writing, and the ability to use them, falls into the category of literacy. Due to the changing sources of information, the use and experience of media in urban and rural life is an important part of every person’s life. The media offers us all kinds of information, analysis, entertainment and feedback and all individuals become consumers of this media.
But experts are increasingly worried about the pitfalls of a world where access to media is not matched by media literacy. This is as true of Pakistan as it anywhere in the world.
“When you read any news or get some information, you should think thoroughly before reacting to it,” says Saifullah Khoso, a digital content creator, who advocates for media and information literacy. “I was sitting at a salon in the morning. A kid who runs a cart has a smartphone in his hand, and comes up to another kid at the salon, and asks him to create a Facebook account for him,” he says. “It occurred to me that when a child does not know how to create a Facebook account, but uses Facebook, then what about the information that will reach him? What effect will it have on him individually or on the society as a whole?”
“There are many areas where even a newspaper arrives a day late,” he says, adding that there is a huge vacuum of information in areas like Tump, Mund, Kahan, Bagh and Jhal Jhao in Balochistan
He insists that dissemination of false information can make a big difference.
“In today’s world there is a huge flow of information. There is not much time for people to check which news is accurate and which is not,” Khoso says.
Saifullah further says that frequent transmission of information depends on the population. Compared to other parts of country, where information reaches people easily due to accessibility of internet, many areas in Balochistan such as Kharan Turbat, Chagai and Noshki have very little flow of information. Most of the information that goes here is through the newspaper or radio.
“There are many areas where even a newspaper arrives a day late,” he says, adding that there is a huge vacuum of information in areas like Tump, Mund, Kahan, Bagh and Jhal Jhao in Balochistan. “A lack of access to authentic information in such areas makes propaganda much easier,” Khoso believes.
“Media literacy is the name of the game. Just as it is essential to know the basics of any technology in order to benefit from it, it is important to keep in mind certain aspects when using media,” Salman Ashraf, a senior journalist says. “Media outlets are not set up for social change and revolution, nor is it their goal. The main purpose of media owners and investors investing in this industry is to make maximum profit on their capital,” he says.
“Journalism is a sacred profession. Young journalists can play an important role in the real development of the province and the country,” says provincial minister of Balochistan Zahoor Buledi.
Appreciating the services of organisations involved in campaigns for media literacy, the provincial minister congratulates the journalism students of all the three universities of the province for their efforts. “Obey the rules and use your pen for social reform and development of the country and the province by bringing uniqueness in your writing and style of expression,” he says.
Only 46% of people in Balochistan are literate. Going by that figure, it is possible to conclude that the media literacy rate is even lower.
Saifullah Khoso, who has been training journalists about fact checking, says that even prominent leaders up to the head of state often share information on social networking sites that they would later delete. “Mainstream media does not report enough about Balochistan, due to which the vacuum is increasing, which directly affects media or information literacy,” he says. “Ignoring important aspects like fact-checking also exacerbates these problems. During the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, when a boy returning through Taftan border became the first COVID infected, many people started expressing their opinions, which had severe negative impacts later on,” Khoso says.
He points out that not long ago, the President of Pakistan shared news of the death of former Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, which was fake. “Even two national TV channels went ahead and ‘broke’ the news. The former PM’s son later had to deny it. Though the President later apologised for his mistake, many don’t. Disinformation, misinformation and mal-information are the three sources of fake news.”
The choice of words is also important when providing information, Saifullah Khoso believes.
In Pakistan, digital literacy has been made compulsory for teachers and students. Digital literacy provides basic information on computer operations as well as training in various uses of social media, ensuring that students read their subjects online with critical and creative abilities to advance the process of discovery and research.