On a bright, sunny August morning, a sharp-looking cohort of 40 Gentlemen Cadets assembled in a hall at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. However, it wasn’t just for another club meeting or a routine military training session. Instead, they had gathered for a FactShala training workshop led by trainer Dr. Taha Siddiqui, turning the morning into something a bit more unusual at the Academy.
Taha, Head and Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communication, Graphic Era Hill University, has been fascinated and intrigued by the term ‘media literacy’ ever since a professor in her college first introduced it to her back in 2010. Her passion for the subject led her to pursue a Ph.D. in media literacy. So when Factshala rolled out its media and information literacy program, it was only natural that Taha, a media literacy aficionado, applied for it too.
Combining both FactShala’s objectives and her personal mission, Taha has been actively educating diverse communities about the crucial role of media literacy in one’s life. Even so, choosing the Indian Military Academy (IMA), an institution that stands as a symbol of prestige and military excellence in the country, may seem unusual given the stark contrast between military and media domains. But when Taha discovered that the Academy has a dedicated ‘Literature and Journalism Club’, she decided to explore this unique intersection.
In today’s world, where information wields immense power, even the military domain is not immune to its influence. Taha emphasizes,
“Information has become a potent weapon capable of either construction or destruction. It is crucial to equip cadets with the skills to wield this powerful tool responsibly just like any other military weapon”.
As a general practice, mobile phones are prohibited for cadets at the academy. Although this implies restricted access to information, it also opens up the possibility of receiving limited and potentially out-of-context information, introducing risks such as misinformation, fake news, scams, etc. Media literacy, then, becomes essential for the cadets, given the dynamic nature of the military landscape involving evolving technologies, shifts in tactics, and changing geopolitical situations.
However, there was a problem – conducting a media literacy session packed with hands-on exercises with no mobile phones in sight was something Taha had never done before. However, she skillfully tailored the session for the cadets, focusing on a more theoretical and learning-based approach. She trained the cadets in the fundamentals of media literacy, empowering them to understand the larger information ecosystem and recognize the significance of accurate information in conflict scenarios.
She equipped them with essential tools and key points that can potentially serve as self-defense against misinformation, propaganda, and fake news. Taha is confident that in the event of an urgent situation, they would be able to independently conduct quick fact-checks instead of relying on others.
Although the cadets were familiar with most media literacy concepts, it was the intricacies they lacked. Post the workshop, Gentlemen Cadet Gaurav Sahoo expressed,
“Taha taught us that media literacy skills go beyond just identifying fake news. She went into the subtle nuances and vital differences between information, misinformation, and disinformation that we often overlook, and guided us through the various approaches to manage them”.
Through the training, Taha also aimed to arm these cadets with one more powerful weapon – critical thinking. In a military context, equipping cadets with critical thinking skills and abilities encompasses the ability to navigate complex situations, assess information, and make informed decisions. Taha emphasizes that
“as future leaders, these cadets will occupy influential positions, and a critical mindset will prove invaluable in making strategic decisions, leading teams, and providing accurate information to subordinates and the public at large”.
She also urged the cohort to extend it to their families back home, recognizing their vulnerability and dependence on media, particularly when these cadets are stationed in conflict zones.
As these Gentlemen Cadets embark on their military journey, Taha’s training not only enhanced their individual abilities but also reinforced the role of media literacy in navigating the complexities of the information landscape, seamlessly integrating media into the military context.