The Media and Communications in Australia

The Media and Communications in Australia

by Graeme Turner




Since first being published in 1993, this book has become a popular introduction for students, teachers, and anyone interested in how the Australian media works. It covers the history and current state of print and broadcast media as well as popular music, film, advertising, media analysis, and media audiences. This updated edition incorporates new material on magazine publishing, convergence, and the effect of new technologies, including electronic publishing and the Internet.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781742370644
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
Publication date: 03/01/2010
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Stuart Cunningham is the head of the school of media and journalism at Queensland University of Technology. Graeme Turner is a professor of cultural studies in the department of English at the University of Queensland. They both live in Brisbane, Australia.

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The Media and Communications in Australia

By Stuart Cunningham, Sue Turnbull, Mia Mala McDonald

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2014 Stuart Cunningham Sue Turnbull
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74343-674-5




The field of Australian media and communications theory and research is in a unique position. On one hand, it is highly derivative of ideas and work generated elsewhere in the Western, and particularly the English-speaking, world — or 'Anglosphere'. This is partly due to the general globalisation of ideas today, but also to Australia's past as a British colony and, since the second half of the last century, to its involvement with the United States. On the other hand, in Australia we are able to observe and compare the influences and models emanating from the metropolitan centres of the Northern Hemisphere, and to selectively combine and modify them in accordance with our own national reality and place in the world. However, it must be acknowledged that until recent years, there has been relatively little attention given to developments in our region of Asia.

The purpose of this chapter is to identify the origins of the major paradigms or schools of thought that have arisen in European and American theory and research as they apply to media and communications; to trace the formative influence they have had on particular styles of work in Australia; and to show how they have become transformed in the process of being adapted to our experience here.


It has become conventional to contrast the main differences in theoretical orientations behind media studies and their corresponding research methodologies as 'European' or 'American' (Putnis 1986). In this characterisation, 'European' means heavily interpretive and holistic in scope — that is, taking a macro perspective, looking down on society as a whole. Its socio-political stance is critical of society as it exists and, historically, most often based upon the ideas of the major nineteenth century European social theorist Karl Marx. In its methods, it is deductive in that it applies general principles to the analysis of particular cases.

By contrast, the 'American' approach is strongly empirical and micro in its scope. At its extreme, its form of knowledge relies on the direct observation of distinct phenomena — preferably controlled and measurable occurrences, such as in a laboratory experiment. Its socio-political stance is said to be liberal, pluralistic or 'value-free' — in other words, it is not aligned with any sector of society that has an interest in producing social change, yet in that sense it is really more conservative.

This typology is a convenient way of contrasting and classifying the main differences we find within media studies, and usefully identifies the several key oppositions between critical and pragmatic approaches. For these reasons, this chapter will not break with the conventional shorthand of tagging these as 'European' and 'American' respectively. However, ideas do not belong to geographical territories, and it is important to appreciate that, even if critical theory has traditionally been weak in the United States, Europe in fact has not only produced the characteristic critical and interpretive schools of thought, but also has a strong tradition of 'positivism', which is much more aligned with 'American' empiricism and functionalism (Giddens 1974).

This contradiction was brought out in a great debate that took place during the 1970s, which was given the formidable name of Der Positivismusstreit, the struggle over positivism (Adorno 1976). Positivism is basically the idea that the methods of natural science can and should be applied to understand and control society and culture, including the media. This was a basic belief behind the founding of social 'sciences' such as sociology in Europe. In that enterprise, positivism had become associated with functionalism, or the theory that a society forms a complete, integrated whole in which every part exists for a purpose.

So Europe had its own traditions of empiricism and holism, which in the great debate were represented by Sir Karl Popper (1959), a philosopher of science and history. Popper was pitted against the Frankfurt School, a group of Marxists based at Frankfurt in Germany, who had developed their 'critical theory' (a necessary euphemism for Marxism) in opposition to the rise of Hitler's Nazism of the 1930s. Critical theory became a most influential form of cultural analysis and criticism, feeding into what later came to be called 'cultural Marxism' or 'Western Marxism'. The debate was fundamentally irresolvable, with Popper insisting on scientific testing as the basis of knowledge and the Frankfurt School arguing for a philosophical, transcendent approach — that is, looking above and beyond present reality by finding a better future concealed within it.


The debate about positivism as such need not concern us here, but in order to understand contemporary media studies it is crucial to comprehend the significance of the Frankfurt School and its tradition (Jay 1974; Slater 1977). In various works over several years, the members of this group (Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the first generation, followed by Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin, among others) first set forth a critique of the rise of the mass media (mainly cinema and radio, the 'new' media of those days), which has defined one important direction for Marxist criticism ever since (Bronner and Kellner 1989). This is the ideological critique of the media — the idea that the media, taken together, form an institution within capitalism that serves to reconcile the exploited class to its domination.

To people first coming to media studies in the twenty-first century, it might seem difficult to believe that this notion was as influential as it came to be. Yet it formed the nucleus of what some labelled the 'dominant ideology thesis' that, by the 1980s, had emerged as the prevalent theoretical orientation in media studies (Abercrombie, Hill and Turner 1980). In its simplest formulation, this view argued that the media induce 'false consciousness' through diversion and misinformation, so that the working class never realises the historical destiny that Marx predicted for it — namely, to unite and overthrow capitalism. That is, media audiences were seen as 'cultural dopes' (Garfinkel 1967), who absorb the ideological messages present in all media contents; such messages induce them to believe that capitalism is both desirable and inevitable, and that they should accept their place within it.

However, there were other European theorists who made the ideological critique of the media more sociologically complex and conceptually refined, notably the Italian theorist and activist Antonio Gramsci (1891 — 1937), with his idea of 'hegemony'. In this conception, the bourgeoisie (or ruling class) achieved its power over the proletariat (working class) only by achieving its always resistant and unstable consent, rather than by illusion or deception. This was a significant reformulation for media studies because it has encouraged the analysis of the polysemic nature of media messages — that is, their multiple meanings, as distinct from just one, dominant ideological meaning. Through Gramsci's concept of hegemony, Western Marxism was able to incorporate other important European interpretive traditions into the study of the media, namely semiology and structuralism, discussed below.

At a later stage, the French communist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918 — 90) also reformulated the ideological critique tradition from Marx. For Althusser, the media were 'ideological state apparatuses', thus introducing a more mechanical and left-wing functionalist view than Gramsci's. However, Althusser made a major break with Marxist orthodoxy by arguing that the ideological (or, as we would now say, the cultural) sphere of society was 'relatively autonomous' from the economic sphere. It had always been a fundamental and defining precept of Marxism that the economic structure, which Marx saw as forming the 'base' of capitalist society, ultimately determined both its political and cultural life as well. That is, they had no development dynamic of their own. With his 'relative autonomy' formulation, Althusser was pointing the way out of the Marxist paradigm, almost by giving permission to theorists to think of media messages (and audiences, for that matter) as being amenable to interpretation without reference to their place in the economic structure of capitalism. The sheep were out of the paddock.


So how did these European Marxist ideas, going back to at least the 1930s, ever come to be influential in Australia? To understand that, we need to take into account the influence British intellectual life continued to assert in Australia during the 1960s and 1970s. Given the keen interest in certain circles in Britain towards European Marxist ideas over that turbulent period, this meant that Britain acted as a relay station for these ideas between Europe and Australia — that is, British academics read and wrote about the European Marxists, and in turn their work was read and written about in Australia.

Britain's own major tradition of thought about media and culture — also influential in Australia — was bourgeois rather than proletarian. In that tradition, which went back to Matthew Arnold's nineteenth-century view of culture as 'the best that has been known and thought', literary figures such as F.R. and Q.D. Leavis and T.S. Eliot saw themselves as the defenders of a spiritual, aristocratic, traditional and elite 'high culture', which was under siege from the rise of working-class 'mass culture' represented by the media (Mulhern 1979). Ironically, their disdain for mass culture gave them something in common with their contemporaries in the Frankfurt School: the development of the popular press, cinema and radio in the first few decades of the twentieth century provoked both conservative and radical critiques. Indeed, it was both sides together that put the 'mass' into the debate about 'mass media' and 'mass culture' as it emerged in the 1950s (Swingewood 1977).

In Britain, Raymond Williams (1977) was particularly important in breaking down the distinction between high culture and mass culture, and at a later stage in applying the subtleties of Gramsci's concept of hegemony. It was through Williams and others, notably Stuart Hall and Richard Hoggart, that a Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was established at the University of Birmingham in the 1960s, based on an interdisciplinary combination of literary criticism and Marxist sociology. Hall, in particular, was an articulate and influential theorist who introduced much of Western Marxism to the English-speaking world (Hall et al. 1980). As well as defining the field of 'British cultural studies', the 'Birmingham School' led the way with a research agenda that linked the sociological analysis of particular social groups, such as youth subcultures, with media representation and consumption (Turner 2003).


One other important British influence was in the specific area of cinema studies. Just as the Birmingham School emphasised the ideological significance of media images and representations within the context of social and political conflicts, screen studies gave attention to the larger mythologies and thoughtways of Western capitalist society as represented in film. This work — much of it presented in the journal Screen — opened up ideological criticism of representations beyond the Marxist problematic of class to perspectives from feminism and structuralism. Laura Mulvey's (1975) concept of the 'male gaze' in cinema is the classic example.

Structuralism, largely based in France, was a broad intellectual movement that linked the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, the anthropological theory of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure, which together propelled what is sometimes called the 'linguistic turn' in cultural theory. This refers to a turn away from the more sociological and political economy modes of analysis found in the Marxist tradition, and towards the study of media representations. It was noted earlier how Althusser's theory of ideology gave some impetus to this development. In terms of media studies, the implication is that, instead of studying communication as composed of industries and technologies on one hand and audiences on the other, the emphasis comes to rest on the media messages themselves. In particular, the concern is with how meanings are produced through the codes or rules and discourses according to which images and other kinds of 'texts' are structured. These meanings are seen as ideological, but in a more universal and mythic sense than revealed by the Marxist preoccupation with class-based understandings.


One other influential strand within the Marxist tradition that must be mentioned — even if it is engaged in a 'family dispute' with ideological analysis and the rest of the tradition — is political economy (Curran 1990, p. 139). Whereas the various European Marxists and their structuralist allies all tend to end up with the weight of their analysis — however conceived — upon the meaning of media messages, the political economy approach puts its emphasis on the production and distribution of media content, with scant regard to its meaning. At its extremes, political economy does not dispute that media content under capitalism is ideological, but rather takes it for granted as obvious, unproblematical and transparent. As well, it has tended to assume that audiences automatically fall under this ideological influence. In this regard, political economy is closer to a more orthodox, less 'cultural' Marxism, which focuses upon patterns of ownership and control of the media, strategies of corporate concentration and expansion, and the links between the media industries and capitalist structure in general.

The rise of political economy in Britain has been associated with names such as Graham Murdock and Peter Golding (1974) as well as Nicholas Garnham (1979), and in France with Armand Mattelart (Mattelart and Siegelaub 1983). However, it is not just a European tradition, as there have been important advocates in the United States — notably the late Herb Schiller (1969), the foundational theorist of 'cultural imperialism', and others elsewhere in the world. Indeed, one of political economy's leading figures has been the Canadian Dallas Smythe (1977), who trained the present generation of political economists in North America, such as Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasko. Smythe was famous for his dictum that media messages were no more than a 'free lunch' that media companies used to attract audiences, which they in turn 'sold' as a 'commodity' to advertisers (see Mosco 1996, p. 148). This is now an extreme view: much political economy in North America is seeking to reform itself of this tendency to reduce complex social processes to economic questions of ownership and control, and instead to take more account of social and cultural realities.

A corresponding approach that takes up this new direction in Britain defines the media as 'cultural industries'. This is exemplified by the work of David Hesmondhalgh (2007). He takes from political economy its emphasis on power and its normative, critical stance, but explicitly draws also on cultural studies for its capacity to provide an understanding of the significance of media content and the role of audiences — both aspects that have been notably absent in traditional political economy. Similarly, bridging the Atlantic, a collection of contemporary political economy theory and research edited by Janet Wasko, Graham Murdock and Helena Sousa (2011) provides fresh perspectives on the traditional concerns of political economy in the communications field — essentially media ownership and control, the role of the state and labour issues — as well as attention to audiences and the formation of consumer markets.


Excerpted from The Media and Communications in Australia by Stuart Cunningham, Sue Turnbull, Mia Mala McDonald. Copyright © 2014 Stuart Cunningham Sue Turnbull. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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Table of Contents

Tables and figures vii

Abbreviations and acronyms viii

About the authors xiv

Preface xx

Introduction: The media and communications today Stuart Cunningham Sue Turnbull 1

Part I Approaches

1 The media and communications: Theoretical traditions John Sinclair 15

2 Textual analysis Alan McKee 31

3 Representation Kate Bowles 43

4 Imagining the audience Sue Turn-hull 59

5 Policy and regulation Stuart Cunningham 73

Part II Industries

6 The press Rodney Tiffen 95

7 Telecommunications Jock Given 111

8 Radio Bridget Griffen-Foley 133

9 Film, video, DVD and online delivery Deb Verhoeven 151

10 Television Stephen Harrington 173

11 Magazines Frances Bonner 193

12 Advertising and marketing John Sinclair 209

13 Popular music Shane Homan 227

14 The internet, online and mobile communication Gerard Goggin 247

15 Games: Mobile, locative and social Larissa Hjorth 269

Part III Issues

16 Social media Jean Burgess John Banks 285

17 Social selves Rowan Wilken Anthony McCosker 291

18 'White bread' media Tanja Dreher 297

19 Celebrity culture Graeme Turner 303

20 The ethics of privacy Kate Bowles 309

21 Sports media David Rowe 315

22 Media and the environment Libby Lester 321

23 Public service broadcasting Maureen Burns 327

24 Classification and regulation Terry Flew 333

25 The apps industry Ben Goldsmith 339

26 Media ethics Catharine Lumby 345

27 Crisis communication Axel Bruns 351

References 356

Index 389

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