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 nation-building. 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 nation-building.
Dr Sabariah Mohamed Salleh 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.