Three Years Of Media Buddhi
And what's to come in Year Four.
Dear friend of Media Buddhi,
It’s been three years, and a pandemic. Three years. Phew.
Way back then, I’d conceived it as a different way to approach the (still-persisting) menace of misinformation. I had a couple of handy frameworks to describe Media Buddhi: a) it was supposed to be the ‘vaccine’ for misinformation, as opposed to being the ‘cure’ that fact-checking is, and b) if fact-checking was focused on the ‘supply’ side of the problem, then media literacy was going to focus on the ‘demand’ side of the problem.
Three years on, I have in mind a different metaphor: fact-checking focuses on providing answers, whereas media literacy is about learning to ask the right questions.
Whatever the metaphor, the problem is a persistent one.
Disinformation continues to feed into propaganda, and propaganda continues to polarise people into sharply divided camps.
So how do we counter that problem? I mean, really, really counter the problem? As the world has tried to answer that question, here at Media Buddhi and BOOM we’ve done our own explorations.
In year one, I focused on writing pieces that attempted to explain the world behind misinformation. Some of the most popular pieces in this Substack newsletter are from this period, such as Six Characteristics of Propaganda and Yes, There Is Such a Thing as ‘Objective Truth’ .
In year two, we splurged on a specialist video editor (thanks to funding from IFCN) and published more than 50 videos, each of them about six minutes in length. These were in Hindi, Bengali and English. Here are some examples:
Bengali: How to identify news and opinion
Hindi: Is this news or an advertisement?
English: Trolls target people but actually shape behaviour and public opinion
In 2022, I wrote a series of deep dives under the umbrella term ‘Indian Journalism Project’. This series included pieces such as Four challenges of Indian journalism and What Mayawati’s case tells us about diversity in our newsrooms.
I also co-opted my colleagues Archis Chowdhury and Divya Chandra to do a podcast titled Media Buddhi A-Z. Each episode, we tackle a series of words or terms under one letter of the alphabet. We’ve tackled words like bhakt (episode 2), and terms like hate speech (episode 9) and IT Cell (episode 10). This episode featured an interview with Sophie Zhang, the Facebook whistleblower.
Along the way, we’ve also done a lot of invisible work related to training people, creating curricula, hosting workshops and events.
What’s to come
It feels like the last three years have been a dress-rehearsal for what’s to come this year. This is because we have the big election of 2024 coming up in a year and a few months.
Meanwhile, here are two pieces I’m going to be publishing in the next few weeks.
An in-depth look at masculinity as depicted in films through a test I’m proposing called the Kumbalangi Test.
A report that looks at why it is so hard to report well on Hindu-Muslim polarisation and disinformation.
Do look for it in your inboxes.
In the last few years, the term media literacy has gone from being a vague term for fact-checkers and journalists to becoming a Next Big Thing. At IFCN’s international conference Global Fact in Oslo in June 2022, we even had a media literacy track. There are now monthly calls among us.
There, and elsewhere in the global community, there was and has been much hand-wringing on how to increase the potency of the fact-check.
My answer to that is something I call a Story Check, which will include a fact-check but also an explanation of the types of narratives that are embedded in any claim or piece of misinformation. I had expected to have published a few story checks by now but the reason that hasn’t happened yet is that I hadn’t worked out how to write one.
I now have a better idea as to how to do it and as a result, you can expect a beta-version to land in your inboxes in a few weeks. I almost certainly won’t get it right the first time, but I’m committed to experimenting with the form here.
So, exciting times ahead at Media Buddhi and BOOM.
I’m also thinking of changing tack here on the newsletter. The podcast will continue, but I will go back to writing pieces and inserting the odd comment or two on current affairs. I like the intimacy of the podcast, but I’ve also missed writing this newsletter and hearing back from you.
As always, if you have any thoughts, do write in a comment or reply to this email. Or if you like, hit me up on social media.
I leave you with a painting I just came across. It’s a Ragamala painting that is available as a free download at the British Museum. (I hear you thinking, it had better be free given that the British have in their keeping so many of India’s treasures. No argument from me there!)
The painting is described as an example of 'Asavari Ragini' and is described thus: a tribal woman in a peacock-feather skirt charms the snakes out of the trees.
Beautiful, no? It seems to be part of a school of similar paintings. Another one is available here. Since I don’t know much about them, I’d appreciate any thoughts.
On a more personal note, I’m thinking of Dr D V Badarinath, my uncle, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. He was an avid reader of this newsletter. He might have appreciated this painting, and it is likely that he would have known something about this style as well.