The dynamic interplay of news media and bilingual education policy in Australia’s Northern Territory 1988–2008

  • Lisa Waller

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study theorises the dynamic interplay between news media and the Northern Territory’s policy of bilingual education for indigenous children living in some remote communities. It argues that the policy was of little interest to the news media, except when it was made a political controversy in 1998–99 and 2007–08. I conclude that, at those key moments, the media exerted considerable force in the policy process. It defined which knowledge (and audience) was of most worth and, in doing so, set up the conditions for certain truth claims about bilingual education to circulate and shape public and policy thinking. The research uses the spoken words of participants to gain access to the local experiences and perspectives of those invested in developing, influencing and communicating the bilingual education policy. Through the analysis of more than 20 interviews with journalists, public servants, academics and politicians, as well as indigenous and non-indigenous bilingual education advocates, this study argues that a range of media-related practices have enabled policy actors to penetrate the policy debate, define the problem for policymaking and public discussion through the news media, and thereby exert particular forms of influence in the policy process. In 1998–99 and 2008 the media-related practices of particular players in the policy field amplified certain voices in the news and resulted in different truth claims about bilingual education trumping others in the policy outcome. The study concludes that media power is not even, external or unidirectional. It operates in and through the different media-related practices of actors in the policy constellation, and the power of media representation shifts and changes accordingly. This research makes an innovative contribution to Media and Communication Studies through its theorisation of the Yolngu public sphere and a Bourdieuian analysis of the journalism subfield of indigenous reporting in the Northern Territory. It argues that issues of physical and cultural remoteness and the need for journalists to develop cultural competence are the hallmarks of this reporting specialisation. It identifies marked differences in journalists’ relationships with government, academic and indigenous sources, and how these differences play out in the way participants understand the production and reception of media texts. This thesis also makes a significant methodological contribution. It builds theory about thinking with indigenous epistemologies and knowledges to generate fresh perspectives and insights about news media and indigeneity. I argue Yolngu social theory can be brought into balance with northern theories to build what Connell (2007) has called ‘southern theory’. This dovetails with another key outcome: the development of an academic form of journalism that serves indigenous peoples’ self-determinist aims for scholarly research, based in their land, culture and indigenous research methodologies.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKerry Mccallum (Supervisor), Michael Meadows (Supervisor) & Warwick Blood (Supervisor)

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