This weekend, Florida State University hosted the seventh annual South Asian Media and Cultural Studies Conference. The conference, whose theme this year was “South Asia: Beyond Borders”, was co-sponsored by the FSU College of Communication and Information, the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy and the Center for global engagement.
This year, FSU also partnered with the Media Studies Department of CHRIST (Deemed to be University) in Bangalore, India, to host the event. Over three days, the conference saw 47 experts from seven different countries discuss the state of media and communications in the South Asian diaspora.
The SAMCS conference began in 2015 in recognition of the influence of the South Asian region on the media and communications community. With over a quarter of the world’s population, South Asia has become extremely relevant in politics, media and culture.
The opening speech was delivered by Deb Aikat, former reporter for The Telegraph and currently Associate Professor at the Hussman School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Aikat was also the first recipient of the Scripps Howard Foundation’s “National Journalism Professor of the Year” award.
Aikat’s speech centered around the idea of “agenda fusion,” which examines the ways people receive and interpret messages to shape their personal world views. He claimed that each person’s worldview is influenced by three things: traditional media programs, social media programs, and audiences themselves.
He also spoke about the print media industry in South Asia and how it continues to thrive despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Aikat attributed this to the extremely low internet penetration rates in the region compared to most of Western society.
Aikat went on to say that a thriving print media industry is essential for a strong democracy.
“News organizations are run by professionals, so unlike media platforms, they do a better job of conveying the truth and contributing to democracy,” Aikat explained.
The other speakers at the conference presented a wide variety of topics, giving talks on everything from musical and performative communication to South Asian cinema.
The entire conference was broadcast live on YouTube. While the conference has benefited from a hybrid virtual and in-person format in previous years, the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic made it the first year that the conference was held on a fully virtual platform.
However, many speakers acknowledged that the virtual nature of this year’s conference was helpful in including international guests.
“With a virtual format, we are saving time and travel costs, and have included more speakers and members of the public from South Asia,” said Stephen McDowell, professor at the College of Communication and Information at FSU and one of the conference organizers and speakers.
Despite the advantages of a virtual conference, McDowell noted that meeting online also has its drawbacks.
“We miss meeting new guests and old friends,” he said.
Going forward, the conference hopes to link up to USF and beyond to continue to shed light on the importance of South Asian media and cultural studies.
“Our partnership with CHRIST University will also allow us to explore different areas of cooperation,” McDowell said. “In addition, we will build the combination of in-person and online events to enable the exchange of ideas. “
Whatever the circumstances next year, the SAMCS conference is sure to adapt.