Media Literacy in Pakistan

The M.S. Thesis: Media Literacy Policy in Pakistan, Hacettepe University Ankara, Turkey, 2019 By: Sana Zainab

Advisor: Prof. Dr. Mutlu Binark

This study aims to highlight the need of media literacy policy in Pakistan and analyse the feasibility of such a policy in Pakistan. It reconsiders existing literacy practices and media structure in Pakistan. Pakistani media and education system both are reviewed to know the strengths and weaknesses of the system and scope of media literacy policy within existing system.

When we talk about media literacy, it’s important to understand the following aspects; literacy, media, media literacy, critical media literacy and approaches to media literacy. If we look back, literacy has been limited to read and right since the man learnt to write. Many efforts to create consciousness through literacy among masses were turned down as Greek Philosopher Socrates and later, Freire struggled though effectively contributed. Literacy has been considered the only way to stop war, promote peace, equality and development though the goal is still far. Over the time, statistics of literate people are increased but couldn’t end wars, inequalities, injustice and poverty. That means there is something missing or this literacy is not enough. Whereas, the term media is referred to means of mass communication and includes lots of forms. For instance, Letters, newspapers, radio, television, personal computers, laptops, DVDs, CDs, internet, smart phones, tablets, paintings, news, movies, podcasts, documentaries, songs, emails, dramas, poetry, books, stories, web forums, messages, social networking portals, mobile applications, talk shows, video games, coupons, receipts, street art, photos, public speeches, pamphlets, brochures, emoji’s, traffic signs, protest signs, posters etc. In short, we expose to media almost every time and everywhere no matter if its conventional media or new media. As we know that traditional literacy is limited to read & write. In today’s media oriented this type of literacy can’t be enough as media has transformed the ways we expose to knowledge or information and the effect of different types of media varies. As far as media literacy is concerned, it has been understood differently across the world as; computer literacy, technical literacy, digital literacy, professional studies of media. But this understanding of media literacy is insufficient to integrate in today’s media mediated world. As boyd (2014) says, its dangerous to assume one as media literate only because that person is able to use and create media content. Here comes the concept of critical media literacy which is generally defined as the “Access, analyse, evaluate & create messages across a variety of contexts” (Livingstone, 2004). According to Hobbs (2015) media literacy is, “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms”. In order to use, understand and comprehend any information one needs to have critical media literacy that creates consciousness to deal with different types of information, different types of media and act accordingly. Media Literacy has been approached in various ways as the protectionist model (around 1960), demystification model and participatory model (1990 onwards) (Leaning, 2009). In recent times, critical media literacy is unavoidable.

While referring to Pakistan which is third most populated country in the world, media has been seen as one of the most important industries in the country.  Media literacy is essential for democratic strength, lifelong learning, citizenship & civic values, economy and sustainability (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2005). That’s what Pakistan needs for now as it has a struggling economy and unstable political set up. Media literacy policy is essential for Pakistan due to following reasons,

  • To tackle poverty as about 40% population lives in poverty (Hassan, 2016) as in South Africa & Thailand also used media literacy to strengthen economy (Fombad, 2018).
  • To turn population growth into human resource as 65% population is under the age of 29 (Najam, 2017)
  • For democracy as political & power elites have significant influence over media, large political campaigns are often seen to influence people
  • To promote civic values & enhance people’s participation
  • To create critical thinking, so that people make better choices
  • To handle challenges like media consolidation, media manipulation, cultural invasion through foreign content, cyber crimes

Overall, it’s a qualitative study. For data collection, 21 in-depth interviews have been conducted. The interviewees included two groups of experts, media academicians and media practitioners and data has been analysed through thematic analysis. Research questions for this study enquire the following aspects for media literacy policy in Pakistan.

  • Understanding of Media Literacy
  • Any existence media literacy reforms
  • Scope & Contribution of Media literacy
  • Policy Agenda
  • Main Actors
  • Requirements
  • Challenges

The finding of this study conclude that media interferes in each and everything no matter if its’ state affairs, judiciary, military or foreign policy of Pakistan. Media is vibrant & active across the country. New media is empowering people to speak for themselves. There is no uniform educational policy in Pakistan rather the divisions in education system are giving rise to inequalities. Constitution guarantees “Education for All” but there is nothing about “Same Education for All”. The traditional education system lacks critical thinking and consciousness. That’s why mob culture or the approach to follow the crowd is getting popularity even among university students. When we refer to media literacy, there is no such a policy or reforms in Pakistan. even media literacy is not even part of the academic debate for now. A large majority has access to media even people who are never been to school have access to media. People develop media sense to some level by exposing to it. Other than that there is no other way. Neither Pakistan nor its neighbors including India, Iran and Afghanistan have any media literacy policy. China has media literacy policy and reforms but that’s also more protectionists approach. A few NGO’s claim to advocate for media literacy in Pakistan. But their projects were limited to 2-3 days’ workshop targeting small groups and there were no follow-ups. These projects were more focused on technical rather than critical. This study states that media literacy policy for Pakistan would not only favor the public but also would be an incentive to government. As it creates critical thinking and capability to make aware choices. It would promote civic sense and smoother flow of democracy. In order to develop such a policy Pakistan needs engagement and collaboration of main stakeholders. The agenda of media literacy policy refers to assess existing policies, to define target audience, to map out policy model, training of trainers and The main stake holder of the policy would be government and civil society. Many of the interviewees suggested three stake holder that includes media too. This debate is quite old but still relevant that media organization could influence the media literacy reforms in their own favor (Hobbs, 1998). The target audience must include two separate groups; adults and kids. Media literacy for kids could be more systematic by making it part of school curriculum but for adults, after school workshops, summer school, Sunday school could be plan. The suggested topics for media literacy curriculum includes: Introduction to media, aims and objectives, media regulatory bodies, news literacy, film literacy, media ethics, copy rights and then complex topics like the difference between freedom of expression and hate speech. The data identifies that main requirements for media literacy policy include the realization the need of such a policy, collaboration of key players, planning the framework and assigning budget for it. As far as challenges are concerned, political or power elites, religious group and conventional media could resist such a policy.

This study recommends that the constitutional rights “Education for all” and “Right to Information” needs brief explanation and implication in the system. Any short term program cannot help Pakistan to create critical awareness, policy reforms are crucial for both media and education sector. Sooner or later, Pakistan needs to work on critical media literacy rather than passing bills like Cyber Crime Bill which gives protection against cyber crimes but not empower individuals to handle complex situations themselves. Being culturally and religiously very sensitive, Pakistan needs its own policy model while having three dimensional approach to media literacy to make media safe, and empowering for masses. For future research, the understanding of media in public needs to be assessed through a big sample to have insights of actual situation. Other than that media literacy curriculum needs to be designed.


Access the thesis see Hacettepe University Library Open Access.


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