Today's society has rightly been described as a media society. Communications and media play an essential role in the functioning of politics, economy, culture and society. Classic mass media such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television transmit knowledge, influence attitudes and values, and contribute to the formation of public opinion. New media and information and communications technology, in particular the internet with its services, as well as increasingly mobile communications, complement the established mass media in their functions. Media communication has gained enormously in importance, pervading all aspects of life in society.
The main academic discipline responsible for communications and media is communications and media sciences, which looks at the conditions, meanings, services and effects of public communication, organizational communication and their respective agents. While the discipline would historically have examined the classic mass media, it now increasingly includes non-public individual communications and with that new media and information and communication technologies.
Under the guise of journalistic sciences, academic interest in the published media in fact has a venerable history. The first thesis dedicated to newspapers appeared in Germany as early as 1690. All in all the field of study called 'science of journalism' is older in many places than is often assumed. However, the expansion of the subject and its full institutionalization at university level visibly coincides with the growth of the media sector in the 20th century. Whilst the discipline was offered in Switzerland as early as 1903 at the universities of Zurich and Bern, it remained fairly small-scale right up to the 1990s. The Department of Journalism at Zurich University was founded in 1923, while in 1942 the subject was established at Bern University and lectures given at Freiburg University. However, it was only in the 1960s and 1970s that the subject became available as a minor at individual universities.
Since then, the field of study has palpably gained in importance, being taught at numerous universities and colleges – with an overview available from the KMW Atlas. Depending on the positioning of the institutes and its professors, the discipline studies its subject and treats its issues using different approaches and methods.
Founded in 1974, the Swiss Association of Communication and Media Research (SACM) has played an active role in developing the discipline, while making a conscious attempt to promote dialogue between science and its practical applications. The members of SACM are comprised of scientists and teaching staff from universities, technical colleges and further education, alongside experts in communications practice and media research, professional associations and representatives of government agencies and administrative bodies. Its members, numbering around 280, are active in various SACM sections to meet the demands of the increasing differentiation of the discipline.
The SACM organises an annual conference, invests in the support of new academic generations by means of sponsorship and events for young academics, strives for a coordinated doctorate programme, and since 2007 has published the Studies in Communication Sciences journal in cooperation with the Facoltà di scienze della comunicazione dell’Università della Svizzera italiana. Furthermore, the lecturers involved in communications and media sciences in Switzerland meet once a year within the Docents Council framework to discuss current issues and challenges. The SACM is a member of the SAGW Swiss academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences (http://www.sagw.ch/sagw.html) and is represented on the Social Sciences' council for the politics of science.