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Martin, FR 2007, 'Digital dilemmas: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and interactive multimedia publishing, 1992 – 2002', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright FR Martin 2007


From the 1990s onwards the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) adopted a range of interactive multimedia activities: CD-ROM, web publishing, datacasting and interactive television. Drawing on extensive primary research, this thesis explores why the ABC pursued an interactive multimedia program under a neo-liberal rationality and how online publishing in particular has impacted on its role as a public service broadcaster.

Drawing on neo-Foucauldian governmentality theory and Scott Lash’s critique of information, the thesis examines how the ABC operates as a technology of government in the transition to an informational society. While it considers the ABC as a localised, specific form of public service broadcasting, many of the findings have importance for analysis within the broader field of state intervention in media markets.

It demonstrates that networked interactive multimedia are a communications strategy appropriate to the governance of a globally implicated market-state during a period of informationalisation – characterised by increased symbolic flows, spatial and temporal compression, decontextualised and disorderly relations of information. Public service media will transition this period, characterised by rapid social change and institutional upheaval, where they can incorporate and exploit the informational relations that threaten to diminish their utility as governmental assemblage.

It finds that while ABC executives used technological change to adapt to the enterprise focus of neo-liberal government, the corporation was simultaneously transformed by disorganisational influences pursuing an ethics of internetworking. Contrary to Lash’s ideal schema of institutional decline, disorganisation – embodied in the ad hoc, program-maker led push for internet access and publishing – can become a force for organisational renewal. This is observable in the development of ABC Online, a public access web service.

The conclusion drawn from ABC Online’s emergence is that the era of digitalisation exposes the ABC as a mutable object, a flexible strategy of national communications governance. It is not exclusively tied to a technical system, such as radio or television, or a practice such as broadcasting. Interactive multimedia such as ABC Online may help the ABC to readdress its contradictory political rationale – the call to represent a coherent national identity in the face of infinite lived diversity – and play a new role in connecting and engaging its users.

This thesis re-examines that role in light of Lash’s observations about the nature of informational power. It explores at length the response to a new self-governing, performative subject, the user of interactive multimedia technology. The user, unlike the audience, is visible, often vocal and social. She negotiates both the space of a multimedia object and dialogic interactions within that space. Her exemplary expertise may rival that of the ABC’s program-makers.

This analysis indicates that in response to informational phenomena, the ABC has reconceived its space of government, its pedagogy and its production of citizenship in order to remain an effective expression of governmentality. An online ABC may act as a mediatory, contextualising strategy that helps users negotiate the construction and function of difference. It may also be altered by user knowledge. These relations are possible, although preliminary in this research, while the ABC remains wedded to the more disciplinary relations of broadcasting.

The implication is that a digitally networked ABC should not be a self-enclosed institution. It is part of an informational network: a multi-sector innovation system. It should not be divorced from its public or the market except in its ethics of exchange. It is a technology that through its technocultural relations socialises, is shaped by and melds with its sometimes unruly user/citizens. It influences, is influenced by and is part of a volatile mediascape. The ABC is organisation and disorganisation, the rigidity of the one generating the other and then being reincorporated, in a cycle of institutional and industrial change.