Operation Rescue: Finns to Host IAMCR Conference

The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak made it impossible for IAMCR to continue plans for the upcoming conference in Beijing, but the bold and creative Kaarle Nordenstreng came to the rescue with his colleagues in Tampere, offering to host the conference on the original dates only five months away. The new local organising committee will include veteran conference planners from the 2017 NordMedia Conference held in Tampere.

On 12 February, and after some withdrawals of participants, Mobile World Congress, the biggest mobile trade show in the world, cancelled their 2020 event, citing “global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances”. 

The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) had a different response. Their upcoming conference, Reimagining the Digital Future: Building Inclusiveness, Respect and Reciprocity (12–16 July) was originally scheduled to be held at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Now, it will be held in Tampere, Finland.

As the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak worsened, IAMCR quickly issued a statement acknowledging the outbreak, giving assurances that the recommendations of health authorities and organisations are being closely followed, and affirming that the safety and well-being of attendees is the priority. Janet Wasko, from the University of Oregon and president of the IAMCR organising committee, reiterated that they were “watching very closely, together with the local organising committee in Beijing, and have not closed or delayed registration”.

As the outbreak showed no signs of abating, spreading to 26 countries in a monthKaarle Nordenstreng, Professor Emeritus at Tampere University, came up with a solution together with his colleagues in Tampere. 

– This is really a lucky coincidence, and my role was just to ask a crazy question in early February: Could we materialise in this emergency situation the old loose idea to invite a major international conference in our field to Tampere?

From that moment, Professor Nordenstreng made a call to Tampere Hall booking office and found out to his surprise that there was vacancy – normally they are booked about two years in advance. An hour later the Visit Tampere office confirmed that local hotels can accommodate a thousand people. 

Sinikka Torkkola, Senior Research Fellow, and Iiris Ruoho, Head of Unit for Communications Sciences, were indispensable in making the crazy question into a feasible plan, Nordenstreng says.

Iiris Ruoho immediately informed the dean, and more people joined, to form the new local organising committee: Marko Ala-FossiPekka IsotalusKaarina NikunenMikko Hautakangas, and Teija Waaramaa, all of Tampere University. 

Professor Nordenstreng has been an IAMCR member since the 1960s. In 1972 he was selected as vice president of the IAMCR and held this position until 1988. Thereafter, he headed the professional education section of IAMCR until 1998, after which he has served on the Scholarly Review Committee.

NordMedia 2017 venue

Tampere has been successful in hosting conferences in the past, including the first, second, and fourth International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conferences in 1996, 1998, and 2002, where the idea was introduced to establish an international association of cultural studies and the final decision to establish the Association for Cultural Studies was made during the latter two. The conference returned to its birthplace Tampere again in 2014, to Tampere Hall, where the IAMCR conference will now be held. More recently, Tampere hosted the NordMedia Conference in 2017.

With a viable alternative solution on the table, IAMCR president Janet Wasko explained that they asked the local organising committee in Beijing if they would host the 2022 conference instead, and they agreed. Expressing an ongoing commitment to continuing the partnership with the team in China, Wasko shared:

– We feel that this postponement to 2022 is very appropriate, given all the preparations made for the conference so far – and the significant opportunity and milestone that holding IAMCR in China would represent, as well as the solidarity for Chinese scholars that this would express.

– Overall, we are grateful to our Chinese colleagues for their collaboration and gracious acceptance of these arrangements.

Furthermore, all submissions for the Beijing conference will be considered for Tampere, along with “an extraordinary reopening of the Call for Proposals allowing a brief window for authors who chose not to submit for Beijing, to send abstracts for consideration for Tampere”, according to Wasko.

Tampere, the venue of the NordMedia Conference 2017, will host the IAMCR conference that was planned for China in July 2020. Source: Tampere Hall.

Even with the change in venue, concerns regarding international travel may linger for some; considering the central theme of this year’s conference is our digital future, it does raise some thought-provoking ideas of offering a possible alternative, virtual participation methods. 

Indeed, there are already commitments to provide the technical facilities for streaming key sessions over the internet and allowing authors unable to attend to present via video.

– While there are numerous issues related to the change of venue, good progress is being made with the transition, Wasko explains.

– Meanwhile, we are also very grateful to our Finnish colleagues for offering a solution to this emergency situation. We anticipate a successful and exciting conference this July in Tampere.

Registration opens in March.

Photo of Kaarle Nordenstreng by Jonne Renvall/Tampere University.