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Abstract

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 clarify 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
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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:

• 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);

• 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;

• 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;


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• 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 GATS, 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 1970s 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
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‘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.