Researching the 'reception' of indigenous affairs in Australia

McKee, Alan (1999) Researching the 'reception' of indigenous affairs in Australia. Screen, 40(4), pp. 451-454.

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The Reporting and Reception of Indigenous Issues in the Australian Media was a three year project financed by the Australian government through its Australian Research Council Large Grants Scheme and run by Professor John Hartley (of Murdoch and then Edith Cowan University, Western Australia). The purpose of the research was to map the ways in which indigeneity was constructed and circulated in Australia's mediasphere. The analysis of the 'reporting' element of the project was almost straightforward: a mixture of content analysis of a large number of items in the media, and detailed textual analysis of a smaller number of key texts. The discoveries were interesting - that when analysis approaches the media as a whole, rather than focussing exclusively on news or serious drama genres, then representation of indigeneity is not nearly as homogenous as has previously been assumed. And if researchers do not explicitly set out to uncover racism in every text, it is by no means guaranteed they will find it1. The question of how to approach the 'reception' of these issues - and particularly reception by indigenous Australians - proved to be a far more challenging one. In attempting to research this area, Hartley and I (working as a research assistant on the project) often found ourselves hampered by the axioms that underlie much media research. Traditionally, the 'reception' of media by indigenous people in Australia has been researched in ethnographic ways. This research repeatedly discovers that indigenous people in Australia are powerless in the face of new forms of media. Indigenous populations are represented as victims of aggressive and powerful intrusions: ‘What happens when a remote community is suddenly inundated by broadcast TV?’; ‘Overnight they will go from having no radio and television to being bombarded by three TV channels’; ‘The influence of film in an isolated, traditionally oriented Aboriginal community’2. This language of ‘influence’, ‘bombarded’, and ‘inundated’, presents metaphors not just of war but of a war being lost. It tells of an unequal struggle, of a more powerful force impinging upon a weaker one. What else could be the relationship of an Aboriginal audience to something which is ‘bombarding’ them? Or by which they are ‘inundated’? This attitude might best be summed up by the title of an article by Elihu Katz: ‘Can authentic cultures survive new media?’3. In such writing, there is little sense that what is being addressed might be seen as a series of discursive encounters, negotiations and acts of meaning-making in which indigenous people — communities and audiences —might be productive. Certainly, the points of concern in this type of writing are important. The question of what happens when a new communication medium is summarily introduced to a culture is certainly an important one. But the language used to describe this interaction is a misleading one. And it is noticeable that such writing is fascinated with the relationship of only traditionally-oriented Aboriginal communities to the media of mass communication.

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ID Code: 42008
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: indigeneity, mediasphere, textual analysis
DOI: 10.1093/screen/40.4.451
ISSN: 0036-9543
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > FILM TELEVISION AND DIGITAL MEDIA (190200)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Disciplines > Film & Television
Copyright Owner: Copyright 1999 Oxford University Press
Deposited On: 16 Jun 2011 21:50
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2011 15:17

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