Culture, Citizenship and Content: Australian Broadcast Media Policy and the Regulation of Commercial Television 1972-2000
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This thesis looks at broadcast media policy in Australia towards the commercial free-to-air television sector, with a focus upon those policies that impact upon media content, during the period from 1972 to 2000. It analyses the relationship between cultural institutions, citizenship discourses, and practices of media policy formation in Australia. It focuses upon both forms of institutional continuity in the relations established between broadcasters, regulatory agencies and others active in media policy in Australia, and upon sources of change in broadcast media policy, such as those arising from media reform activism, changing public policy discourses, and pressures arising from globalisation and new media technologies. The thesis is in two parts. Part One of the thesis uses debates about cultural policy in Australia in order to clari& the relationship between institutional forms and cultural practices in a sector such as broadcasting, characterised by distinctive forms of commercial property, a highly concentrated production and distribution structure, and the capacity for content to be distributed across space, both nationally and internationally. The institutional approach that is developed focuses on underlying structures and ongoing 'policy settlements' in national broadcasting systems, and the forms of political contestation that arise from the 'soft property' nature of commercial broadcast licences, and the resulting 'public trust' obligations to the public as citizens as well as media consumers. The concept of citizenship provides an important link in this regard, and this thesis analyses the relationship between citizenship and governance, the political and national dimensions of citizenship, and the complex policy discourses through which citizenship principles are translated into policy practice. Part two of the thesis applies this framework through four case studies in Australian broadcast media policy: 1. The period in the 1970s leading up to and including proposals to institutionalise public participation in broadcast media policy, on the basis of the public nature of the airwaves used by commercial broadcasters, through the licence renewal hearings process developed by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT); 2. The Australian Content Inquiry conducted by the ABT between 1983-1989 that established new Australian content quotas for commercial television, and the forms of institutionalised participation and engagement between commercial broadcasters and media advocacy and public interest groups that developed through this process; 3. The development and implementation of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, that utilised emergent neo-liberal policy discourses to argue for 'light touch' regulation, as well as greater industry self-regulation, and which significantly foreclosed opportunities for public participation in broadcast media policy formation; 4. The growing significance of media globalisation and international trade agreements upon Australian media policy, and concerns about the ability to influence media policy in light of multilateral trade agreements such as the OATS, as well as the impact of bilateral trade agreements such as the Closer Economic Relation (CER) with New Zealand. The thesis finds that there has been an important connection between the 'public trust' nature of broadcast licences, the ways in which citizenship discourses impact upon media policy around questions of public participation and content regulations, and forms of activism in the policy process that emerge form the early 1 970s on. At the same time, there are clear limits to the capacity of state regulatory agencies to shape the conduct of commercial broadcasters, arising from the political and economic power of the broadcasters, the limits to 'publicness' of licences arising from private ownership, and wider policy discourses that are increasingly concerned with promoting the operation of markets, national competition policy, and trade liberalisation. The policy settlement that emerges in Australia in the 1970s, and dominates for the period covered by this thesis, is described as a social contract, whereby regulatory agencies as the representatives of government accept that concentration of ownership of broadcast television licences, and restrictions on the entry of new players, constitute a necessary quid pro quo for the provision of 'pro-social' forms of programming, such as Australian content and children's programming. In the early 2000s, this policy settlement was under profound challenge for new technologies and services associated with digitisation, national competition policy, and the potential impact of international trade agreements, and it is likely that this decade will see the development of new institutional structures and forms of policy settlement.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
Broadcast media policy
national broadcasting systems