Media in a post-truth era

Monash School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) Alumni Association held its inaugural forum entitled 'Media in a Post-Truth Era: From Trump to Malaysia', at Monash University Malaysia on 31 March 2017.

This was an especially pertinent topic given the whirlwind of changes in the global political landscape, which culminated with the induction of the word post-truth into the Oxford Dictionary.

The discussion featured three panellists - Dr Joel Moore, Senior Lecturer in Global Studies and Deputy Head of School (Education), Monash University Malaysia; Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, Assistant News Editor, Malay Mail Online; and Iqbal Fatkhi, Writer, CILISOS Media.

In her opening remarks, Professor Kuah Khun Eng, Head of School of Arts and Social Sciences, described the event as a happy occasion that brought together the alumni association, to make an impact not only on society but towards Monash and the SASS.

Professor Kuah added that the school has produced many graduates since its inception in 2008 and expressed her hope that with the formation of the association, alumni would form a mentor-mentee relationship with current students.

“I think your juniors will be able to learn a lot from your experience and expertise while you can also provide them with guidance, such as in choosing their career paths,” she said.

“I also hope that the association will grow from strength to strength. The presence of everyone here is a very good sign. I’m positive and certain that this association will grow,” said Professor Kuah, adding that the school would be happy to provide assistance for the association’s future events to bring it to the next level.

Dr Moore began the discussion with a brief introduction about post-truth. He explained post-truth - which was Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year - as objective facts that are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

“So this is a change in public opinion and a change in how members of the public are forming their opinions on public policy in particular,” he explained. “The crux of the question is: why is it that more people seem to be rejecting verifiable facts, or willing to accept arguments and opinions from government officials that seem demonstrably incorrect?”

Dr Moore briefly discussed the topic of media and technology, noting that algorithms on social media affect content seen by users based on what they have clicked before. He also highlighted research that demonstrated traits of those who are more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.

The discussion saw a variety of issues being discussed, including the difficulties faced by online media platforms in Malaysia. Syazwan highlighted that it is challenging for portals to encourage readers to stay on their website. He highlighted the importance of creating good headlines that would encourage readers to click on their articles, in addition to presenting news in a “sexy” way, all while maintaining the facts.

Other issues plaguing the local media industry include consumers who do not want to pay for content. “If you’re not paying for it, someone has to. And those who pay for it set the narratives and agendas,” said Iqbal.

On a similar note, Syazwan suggested one method of ensuring the independence of the media is by getting consumers to pay for content.

The lively discussion came to a close after a question and answer session.