Media education, a misnomer

Vinaya Kasajoo

The Kathmandu Post

2003-11-13  09:05

NOV 14 – After spending years of time and tons of paper to find out the culprit who encourages people, particularly children and teenagers, to do all kinds of nuisances in the family and the society, social scientists are now pointing to a magic box that lives in the living room and which is loved by all the family members. As the communication technology develops it seems impossible to get rid of it. Media education is the only way to reduce its negative impact and benefit from it. But in Nepal media education has become a misnomer.

Suicide by an eight year boy for a packet of biscuit, last week (November 10, 2003) has raised concerns among psychologists and pediatricians. Some of them have contributed the incident to sibling rivalry and family environment while some mental health experts have pointed to the mass media, particularly television.

Scientific studies and reviews, abroad, conclude that significant exposure to crime, sex, violence and advertisements increases the risk of aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents. Violence appears in various forms of entertainment, such as movies, video games, and television news.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognises that exposure to mass media (i.e., television, movies, video and computer games, the Internet, music lyrics and videos, newspapers, magazines, books, advertising, etc) presents both health risks and benefits for children and adolescents. Media education has the potential to reduce the harmful effects of media. By understanding and supporting media education, pediatricians can play an important role in reducing the risk of exposure to mass media for children and adolescents. (Source: AAP Report)

Nepal is not an exception. To grab the limited audience and advertisement market the Nepalese electronic media are increasingly normalising and glamourising, and even glorifying occasionally, crime, sex, violence and use of tobacco, alcohol and junk foods. As a result, juvenile crime and obesity is increasing in the society.

Mass media, which is loved and appreciated so much for its role in democracy, development, education, awareness, entertainment, and so on, is replacing the traditional role of parents and teachers in educating children. It has now become the dominant storyteller in our society and as a dominant storytellers media has a powerful influence on our understanding of ourselves and our world. Therefore, it is imperative for young people as well as the parents to understand mass media for the harmony and health of family and societies at large.

Learning to question images and messages presented by the mass media is a critical first step to becoming an active, thoughtful consumer of the media, and, consequently, an independent thinker capable of resisting and challenging unhealthy understanding and practice. Media education or media literacy enables people to read, understand and deconstruct media images and messages. It provides young people the tools to construct positive self-images and find healthy relationships.

Media education is defined as the study and analysis of mass media. It has potential to reduce harmful effects through the process of educating children, adolescents, and adults about media. A media-literate public is able to decipher the purpose and message of media rather than accepting it at face value. Media educated users can recognise media’s potential effects and make good choices about their and their children’s media exposure.
Nepal is increasingly exposed to all kinds of media messages and images through dozens of global televisions, half a dozen of national channels and more than two dozens of FM stations. However, it is disheartening to learn that the term media education is misused and misplaced in the education sector and by the educators of journalism and mass communication.

The syllabus of the Media Studies of the Bachelor of Arts in the Kathmandu University rationalises the education in the following terms: “Apart from further consolidating the knowledge in the area of specialisation, the students will develop the professional skills required in the respective job sectors. The subjects have been chosen so as to meet the increasing demand of skilled and trained human resources in media, education and development and service organisations. The programme has been developed keeping in consideration the contemporary needs and requirements of the possible job areas in various public and private sectors.”

A study of the syllabi of some of the universities and colleges of Nepal reveal that most of them are teaching mass communication and journalism in the name of media education. Even the educators of journalism and mass communication of the campuses have named their organisation as association of media educators, which is obviously a misnomer.

As the objectives and role of media is shifting from social servant and watch dog to a profiteer the importance of media education is increasing every day. Media education should be a part of school education from the lower level. The education planners seem to realise, to some extent, the importance of media education for the young students. However, at the designing stage of the syllabus it was mistaken as the journalism education. As a result the students of Tribhuvan University campuses have to study journalism as a part of Compulsory Nepali.

Misunderstanding media education and misnaming it for journalism education has had long-term impact in minimising the importance of media literacy for the audience of modern mass media, particularly the youths. Thus, the most vulnerable section of the audience, who need the media education most are being deprived of it. Its consequences are now visible in the form of suicide, crime, and sexual violence, increase of obscenity, disobedience and erosion of cultural and social values.

Posted on: 2003-11-13 09:05