At the closing ceremony of a media literacy training yesterday, a cabbie summed up the importance of being media literate. It may have been an exaggeration when he said the difference was that of the sky and earth referring to his understanding of media, before and after the two-day programme, but what is important is that he understood the importance.

He was joined by others who agreed that they were media literate until they found that they were not. At a time when our lives are governed by media, especially social media, education, it seems is the best defense in creating a society that understands how to consume what is bombarded at them. It would be difficult to make all the people critical information consumers but the importance of creating a media literate society has become critical. In fact, the call now should be media citizens and not media consumers.

The onslaught of media has overwhelmed us. Mobile technology came only in 2002, but going by records, with 702,802 mobile subscribers, almost all the people in the country carry a mobile. And given the affordability, connectivity and usability, it has penetrated the most remote corners of the country not sparing any age group of social strata.

It has become a cliché to say that social media has made us unsocial. But it is the truth. What social media has enabled is a growing pool of irresponsible publishers. Anybody who can type, speak and share anything becomes a publisher. What is published is not verified. Most consumers take it at face value. That is why we have problems, especially when people take advantage of the platform for personal or political gains. Fake news and miscommunication is a problem we recently grappled with during the initial days of the pandemic.

The usage will increase with everything now moving online. The most vulnerable is the young as education has gone online. It forces parents to buy mobile phones or tabs for their children. Most parents don’t even know how to operate, forget guiding their children.  The risk of exposure to unwanted contents is real.

Media literacy from the media point of view transcends being able to differentiate the truth from fake or enabling them to analyse or evaluate what they consume. It is also about understanding the role of the media and in being transparent.

Many agree that media is important in a democracy. But it ends there. We are still in the maray laso (always agreeing) culture even when we agree that disagreement is the beauty of democracy. Why should a bureaucrat seek permission from the minister to speak to the media if he thinks the policy being discussed or the decision being finalised is unfair or not transparent?

Quite often, our bureaucrats, including those at senior level, speak or criticise decisions or policies only after they are approved. What is it that stops them, for instance, from talking to the media or disagreeing when the expectations are disagreements in the interpretations of national interests?

Bhutanese media agree that elected local leaders and the people are more media friendly for they want their concerns and interest to be heard. This, in other words, is being more media literate. They know they can raise their voice through the media and the impact is better through mainstream media than the unregulated social media.

The local media with all its faults and shortcomings is attempting to serve the national interest, as opposed to personal or political interests. They can provide more insights or fulfil their responsibilities better if more and more people understand the importance of its role. In short, being media literate at a different and more crucial level.