The media, the citizen and information literacy
The media has increasingly been in the limelight. We do not expect anything less because of the growing gains in technologies of communication. We do not also expect this limelight to diminish anytime soon, because of the rising sophistication of the technologies.
Coming with the limelight however is the increasing scrutiny on the role of the media in shaping, reshaping social life, and in the determination of how we relate as humans. There have been so many alterations, so much redefinitions and a lot more reshuffling of the scales, spaces and places of existence. These new shifting of shapes are a challenge to us on how we adapt, to cope with our new realities and experiences, consistent with man’s ability to rethink processes and procedures for his own convenience, and more importantly for social harmony.
Thomas Hobbes told us ages ago about the social system being short, brutish and nasty, if there was no law. The social system he envisaged was of course life offline. And there are motley of rules, regulations, ethics and laws to guide us offline. Let us fast forward to the 21st century, where we share our time between life offline and life online. While we are used to living life offline, we are still grabbling with patterns and particularities of life online. And life online, sometimes seems like the life envisaged by Hobbes, as it is occasionally brutish, short and nasty.
This is so because control is tougher, owing to its permissible dimensions. It offers an escape for the man, who feels a new sense of freedom, and a new place of expression. It additionally provides the space for those Wole Soyinka called “Closet Psychopaths” or “Closet nymphomaniacs” according to Reuben Abati. But to what extent should we break bones about these developments? To what extent should we regulate, or fail to regulate? First, we need to understand that questions around misinformation, malformation, disinformation, fake news and hate speech are not new to man. Many forerunners of knowledge, including Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, St. Augustines of Hippo, Al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldum, St. Monica, amongst others had reasoned around the search for truth. They were differently concerned about what truth actually should be. In the fruitless search for the truth, they expanded the frontiers of knowledge, of ideation and intellection, leaving the space for others to continue. In searching for the truth, there was the subtext of falsehood, which needed correction. Could they completely correct things? They arguably did not, but their efforts yielded results, through the population of knowledge spaces, from the prism of their logic. Again, fast forward to the 17th century and remember the King of Prussia, who according to records used misinformation to further his imperial tendencies. How about the thick of the ideological war between the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and the United States of America (USA), or the West in general? It was an era characterized by deep-seated political and economic divide, where propaganda reigned supreme. And from our basic understanding of propaganda, truth is always a casualty. Adolf Hitler was famous for his demagoguery, his misrepresentation of facts, in manners that suited his purpose. Truth died in his lips. Look at Philip Taylor’s definition of propaganda as the systematic dissemination of information from a sender(s) to (a) receiver(s), for benefiting the source, and you will see how self-serving information dissemination can sometimes be. Then check the seminal work of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky on the “Manufacturing of Consent” and you will again see how information dissemination can be selfish. One of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare lived in the 15th Century or thereabouts. He wrote many books, plays and play lets. He gave us many English language lexicons. The sense and wisdom from his works are still reference points over 500 years after his death. Only in the 19th Century however, questions began to emerge if he was actually the author of those works. A fan of Shakespeare will surely have none of that.
But the questions are still raging and new researches are emerging around the challenge on his productions and productivity. Was Shakespeare lying? Was the identity of Shakespeare a fake one? Are the news around him fake news? We can continue to ask related questions as much as we want.
There is something we call the gospel truth. This truth is adjudged as absolute, eternal and eschatological. The coming of the gospel was supposed to clear some air, and provide a pattern for the understanding of being and becoming, for the smooth navigation of life, to the one after. The supposition hitherto was an absence of truth, or an inadequate understanding of existence. What all these point to is that we are in a world of difference, a variegated world where sameness is hardly possible, but when man partly relies on information to predominate. What however matter, therefore, is not just the management of the difference or differentiations, but also mode of assimilation. Things and societies are promoted as good or civilized, depending on how differences are managed. Take the human biology as an instance. The head, the hand, the legs, the belly are in coordination with the spine, the heart, the kidney, and the liver and other organs. They are separate but interdependent. Transport this analogy to the society. The society is replete with dividers, classifiers, weaved around ethnicity, religion, cultures, class, income groups, circumstances of birth, and more.
Manage this diversity well and you will have a harmonious and prosperous people. But manage this poorly and the reverse will be the case. One instrument or item, central to management of systems and societies, as I have hinted, is the media. The media mediates, connects, brings about communion, understanding, and provides grounds for direction, for policy framework, for mobilization and for galvanization. The media is the oxygen for social survival. It is a blood, which a system needs for survival. But if contents, messaging and materials are cancerous, toxic and contaminated, you can then imagine how this will rub off on the system. A healthy blood is more likely to generate a healthy system, conversely. The revolution in communication, culminating in the social media has introduced a new phase for us, more importantly. This phase is where every man or woman is literally empowered to generate, send or share information, without let or hindrance, irrespective of quality or the danger it could pose to individuals or groups.
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Adeniyi, is University Orator, Head, Mass Communication, an associate professor of Diasporic and Strategic Communication, Baze University, Abuja. He delivered this paper at a symposium organised by Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, National Press Centre, Radio House, in Abuja, recently.
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