Making Sense of the Complexities of Media and Communication

They key to understanding communications and media studies is not in how active we are on social media, how familiar we are on the latest pop culture, or how aware we are of the latest tweet posted by a politician. Mastery in this field of study is being able to zoom out and look at the big picture of how communications actively shape our world, and zoom in to see the many and different threads of communications that bind different societies together, or break them down, and what we can learn and apply from all of it. Dr Tan Meng Yoe, Coordinator for the Master of Communications and Media Studies (MCMS) in Monash University Malaysia provides an insight into the program.

Looking Beyond the Obvious

Communications is more than what is presented to us. It is thus important that we learn to make sense of it. We live in a world where we are inundated with media content from various sources, both solicited and unsolicited. Today, everything can be a scandal, everything can be a campaign, everything can be a product, everything can be everything. But is that all there is to society?

Looking beyond the noise, we must find out what’s really going on. It is in this process of inquiry where important critical thinking skills are developed. For example, news agencies always claim to publish the truth, and present it in an impartial manner. Yet we know this is not true, as demonstrated by the well-documented decrease in trust in mainstream news in recent years in Malaysia.

In news, we have to ask, whose agenda is prioritized, how stories are framed, what version of reality is laid out for us, who’s behind it, and whether it is useful or dangerous. These are not easy questions, but with some training, they’re not impossible to answer either. This can be applied to all avenues of communication, be it movies, politics, concerts, and advertisements among others. They key is to look beyond the obvious, and identify the contexts, structures, and processes that make communication effective, or ineffective.

Thinking Beyond Ourselves

Apart from theoretical knowledge, an important aspect of honing communication skills is broadening our knowledge and appreciation of a world that’s beyond what we are familiar with. This is more crucial than we think it is. For example, whenever an advertisement receives backlash for its insensitivity towards particular cultures or people groups, it is important to realize that it’s usually not one person’s fault. Instead, it is a result of collective ignorance. The fact that no one in the entire production process could pick out a potential misunderstanding simply means that a broader understanding of other cultures is lacking.

To be fair, it is impossible to know everything there is to know about everyone, and that mistakes do happen. As such, the solution isn’t so much to learn everything, but to develop an “others-centered” approach to making decisions. Students enrolled in the MCMS program are exposed to cultural issues within Malaysia and abroad, learning not just fact-files about other societies, but intricacies and cultural dynamics that make the world simultaneously more complicated and colorful. Due to the diverse demographic of students in the university, students also get to learn and work with people of various backgrounds and nationalities, adapting to different styles.

It is this posture of always learning more about others, that serve as a powerful deterrent to cultural misunderstandings, and develop communication strategies that navigates through these complexities. It also develops a greater sense of compassion for the world we live in.

Learning and Producing Knowledge

Accumulating knowledge and widening one’s perspective is important, but taking it to the next level, students conduct original research and contribute to the knowledge pool. Their research projects, independently pursued under the guidance of experts from the School of Arts and Social Sciences, are varied, insightful, and of good quality.

Some of the research projects in recent years include a study into the mechanics on how fake news is spread in Malaysia, Asian perspectives on the ongoing debate of whitewashing in Hollywood, communication techniques of successful Youtubers, a textual comparison of Donald Trump and Xi JinPing’s speeches, and more.

All of these topics are current, relevant, and directly contribute to a deeper understanding of the world we live in. With knowledge gained from these projects, coupled with rigorous training in research skills, our graduates are equipped to provide useful insights into current trends and develop innovative media strategies and solutions, applicable across various industries.

For more information on the Master of Communications and Media Studies at Monash University Malaysia, please visit www.monash.edu.my/sass.