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Thank you very much and good luck


Terry Flew & Stuart Cunningham

DEVELOPMENTS in communications media are important in all the processes of globalisation. There are three dimensions to this. Firstly, media constitute the technologies and service delivery platforms through which international flows are transacted. Secondly, the media industries are leaders in the push towards global expansion and integration. Thirdly, the media provide informational content and images of the world through which people seek to make sense of events in distant places. It follows that media are central to the globalisation debates, partly because of their role as communications technologies that enable the international distribution of messages and meanings, but mainly because of their perceived role in weakening the cultural bonds that tie people to nation-states and national communities. Chris Barker has argued that global media - and global broadcast media in particular - are globalising in both their form and their content. Television, Barker has claimed, is 'globalised because it is an institution of capitalist modernity' and, at the same time, it is 'contributing to the globalisation of modernity through the worldwide circulation of images and discourses'.1 The element in this which has generated particular concern for national governments is the way in which the rise of global broadcast media is seen as leading to an uncoupling of polity and culture within the nation-state, analogous to the uncoupling of polity and economy that is associated with the rise of transnational corporations and global financial markets.2

While these developments seem new, they should not be seen as being without historical precedent. James Carey has drawn attention to the profound significance of the introduction of the telegraph in the 1840s. The telegraph enabled the development of the modern, multidivisional corporate enterprise, monopolistic markets and futures exchanges, and it was at the centre of the development of the electrical goods industries. The telegraph also restructured everyday language through its effects on popular journalism, as it demanded a new economy of writing style and made the concept of objectivity central to reportage over the 'wire'. Most significantly, the telegraph meant that the movement of messages was separated from the movement of physical objects, and hence communication was separated from transportation and 'freed ... from the constraints of geography'.3 The telegraph also changed the way in which communication was thought about, providing a new conceptual model - the 'transmission model' of communication as a social practice. In this sense, 'the telegraph was not only a new tool of commerce but also a thing to think with, an agency for the alteration of ideas.'4

Carey has also drawn upon the work of the Canadian communications historian Harold Innis to argue that while print culture was associated with the rise of nationalism - as it was a form that promoted continuity over time, decentralisation and regional differentiation - broadcast media challenges this national communications grid by developing a form that is 'space-binding' within and between nations and, simultaneously, promoting the centralisation of production and international distribution.5 Arjun Appadurai has underlined this novelty, referring to global mediascapes as one of the five 'landscapes' of global cultural flow - the others being 'ethnoscapes', 'technoscapes', 'finanscapes', and 'ideoscapes' - which have generated 'fundamental disjunctures between economy, culture and politics in all societies over the last 20 to 30 years'.6

In this chapter we will initially canvass the prevailing attitudes to media globalisation and explore the issues by taking into account the regulatory functions of audiences and government policy. We will then look at the ways in which globalisation is framing Australian media culture and examine the current trends. The trends generally suggest that we are moving toward a new configuration, marked by increasing private foreign investment and decreasing domestic public funding, although aspects of policy in relation to digitalisation starkly contradict this direction. Both the new configuration and the digital exception contain risks which illustrate that globalisation does not present an either/or scenario in the media context. While Australia faces many challenges from the changing media landscape, and the media will remain central to the process of globalisation, it is not a question of choosing between global or national scenarios.

Attitudes to media globalisation

Two approaches to media globalisation have prevailed. Mainstream economists and liberal communications theorists have emphasised the relationship between new technologies and markets, and have argued that media globalisation promotes new opportunities for shared information, borderless communication and global commerce. They believe that global media encourage the spread of liberal-democratic ideas and empower citizens against unjust forms of local authority by allowing the 'whole world to watch'. Not surprisingly, these arguments find favour with the heads of the giant media corporations. Rupert Murdoch once famously argued that cable and satellite broadcasting had not only 'been a key factor in the spread of freedom' worldwide, but would also 'liberate people from the once powerful media barons'.7 This echoes comments by Ted Turner when he launched the 24-hour cable global news service, CNN. 'We're gonna take the news and put it on the satellite', said Turner, 'and then we're gonna beam it down into Russia, and we're gonna bring world peace, and we're gonna get rich in the process! Thank you very much! Good luck!'8

On the other hand, for critics of global media, such as political economists and critical communications theorists, these trends have pointed to 'cultural imperialism'; a 'McWorld' involving the spread of American derived consumerist values - the 'Coca-Colonisation' or 'Disneyfication' of the globe; the suppression of autonomous local cultures and dissident opinion; and the dissemination of the values and structures of the dominant economic and political powers.9The political economy tradition has long drawn attention to the adverse political and cultural implications of the unequal distribution of international communications power and resources. It has also argued that there is a relationship between US hegemony in the global system and the 'soft power' deriving from US media and cultural exports and their impacts upon the culture and values of importing societies. In a major recent contribution to this literature, Edward Herman and Robert McChesney have outlined in great detail the rise of global media corporations such as News Corporation, Disney and Time-Warner, and have shown how their global expansion in the 1980s and 1990s has been facilitated by national policies of trade liberalisation, the deregulation of media markets, the privatisation of telecommunications, and the winding-back of funding to national public broadcasters and other non-commercial media and cultural forms. They argue that this expansion has not been primarily the result of technological change or market competition, but is indicative of the extent of transnational corporate influence over national policy makers and the hegemonic role played by global media in the international dissemination of ideas. In this view, the global media are the 'new missionaries of global capitalism', and their adverse consequences include the spread of individualistic values, the displacement of the public sphere, the strengthening of conservative political forces, and the erosion of local cultures.10

Anxieties about the influence of global media on culture and values, as well as their direct political and economic power, have a long lineage. At an international level, the New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO) debate, which occurred through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from the early 1970s until the US and Britain withdrew all of its funding in 1985, was framed by these concerns. More recently and closer to home, the former Keating Labor government's 1994 Creative Nation cultural policy statement was partly animated by a concern that the 'revolution in information technology and the wave of global mass culture potentially threatens that which is distinctly our own'. According to this policy, a national cultural policy is necessary to ensure 'that what used to be called a cultural desert does not become a sea of globalised and homogenised mediocrity'.11

But to what extent are these trends new and, more relevantly, are they dominant? Film has been an internationally distributed medium dominated by Hollywood product since the 1920s, and Australian broadcast television has had high levels of imported content since its inception in 1956. Indeed, in the case of free-to-air commercial television, Australian broadcasting is now more local in its content than 30 years ago. In the early 1960s as much as 98 per cent of television drama was imported, while today 55 per cent of television drama is local content. Similarly, expenditure on imported programming has fallen from 55 per cent of total program expenditure in the late 1960s to around 30 per cent.12 In this light, Tom O'Regan has argued that 'either/or scenarios of national culture or globalisation ... are wrong-headed [and] mask a situation in which national and international tendencies are co-present and are variously competitive with and complementary to each other'.13

More generally, so-called 'strong globalisation' theories of all forms possess two abiding problems. Firstly, the basis on which the arguments rest often appear plausible, but are empirically weak. A close analysis of media globalisation tends to support the position of Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, who have contended that 'strong globalisation' theorists are superficial in their use of evidence, underestimate the continuing significance of nation-states in the regulation and governance of the international economy, and overlook the fact that these processes are not historically unique experiences of the post-1960s era.14 While studies affirm the high and growing volumes of world audiovisual trade, and the dominance of US product in these markets, they also find that 97 per cent of the world's television product remains local and is never broadcast outside of its country of origin.15 An analysis of the media also tends to highlight the second problem with the 'strong globalisation' thesis, which is the assumption that once powerful nation-states are having their political and cultural autonomy undermined by globalising forces. This assumption may draw too heavily upon the experience of a relatively small number of Western European states, which have had unchallenged political and economic sovereignty and a clearly defined national culture until recently. The thesis needs to accommodate the circumstances of post-colonial and more peripheral states, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which have always been more exposed to powerful international economic forces, have long been deeply 'implicated' in the political and economic strategies of foreign powers, and possess more of a 'hybrid' cultural identity and a 'weak' sense of national citizenship.16

Two elements need to be added to the picture drawn by the dominant discourses of media globalisation, which either welcome a new age of the 'global village' and high-tech liberal humanism, or possess a dystopian fear of homogenised and debased global mass culture. The first is that of audiences. In contrast to political economy approaches that understand global communications flows primarily in terms of the economic interests which control their distribution, and thus tend to see global media functioning as what John Tomlinson has described as 'recruiting sergeants for the capitalist economic order', interpretative approaches drawing upon cultural studies methodologies have pointed to a need to come to terms with the cultural meanings derived from these flows and their dynamic inter-relationship with local cultures and contexts.17 Ien Ang has drawn attention to the extent to which 'global media do affect, but cannot control local meanings'. Ang has argued that 'the construction of a "global culture" ... should not be conceived as a process of straightforward homogenisation' because 'local cultures everywhere tend to reproduce themselves ... through the appropriation of global flows of mass-mediated forms and technologies'.18 Michael Tracey has also observed that globalisation rhetoric disguises both the complexity of global media flows and, more importantly, the extent to which US TV product tends to be less popular than local product in almost every country, as well as the degree to which the presence of US imports acts as a trigger to the development of local programming to meet the cultural needs and expectations of local audiences.19

The other major element that needs to be added is public policy and the role it plays in regulating the relationships between global flows and their local impacts within the nation-state. Philip Schlesinger has proposed that national media and cultural policies be seen as exercises in 'communicative boundary maintenance', out of which emerge distinctive national media cultures, and particular configurations of local and imported media content and styles.20This is particularly apparent in broadcasting, where national public broadcasters, national regulatory systems, and audience preferences for locally produced material, have intersected with economic and technological forces that promote imported programming, and with political, cultural and linguistic factors which make particular countries more or less open to imported English language content from the US. Countries such as Australia and Canada have local content levels of about 55-60 per cent for free-to-air television, which is considerably less than global audiovisual leaders such as the US and Britain, or countries such as Japan, India and France, where language provides considerable 'natural protection' for local producers. These levels are, however, considerably higher than those in countries which have substantially deregulated their television system, such as New Zealand, or which have developing television systems, such as Singapore.21

It is important to recognise the importance of activist cultural and media public policies, such as Australian television production quotas and support for a national film industry, which were triggered by the high levels of exposure to imported cultural material. In the Australian context, exposure to international media flows has positively rather than destructively shaped national media cultures, including the stimulation of trade in international program formats ('copycat TV'), the development of cosmopolitan formats that 'play at being American', and the fashioning of 'national champions' able to occupy distinctive niches in global audiovisual markets, such as Australia's continuous series and serial dramas.22 In response to both right and left analyses which have dismissed the nation-state as oppressive or exclusionary, the Australian government's continuing role in generating a national cultural infrastructure in the context of globalisation and cultural fragmentation can be defended on the basis of the ways in which it provides the conditions for diverse local cultural production to exist:

What these analyses ... overlook is that a rhetoric and infrastructure for community cultural production, and its consequent employment and economic multipliers, have emerged in Australia only recently, and that these developments have been facilitated by initiatives taken and arguments won at the level of national co-ordination, policy and funding. National rhetorics, which may appear transparently ideological to the social critics, are of recent vintage and are quite vulnerable to the stronger imperatives toward internationalisation which have a persuasive technological and economic cachet. Without a national cultural infrastructure, and a workable rhetoric to sustain it, the sources for enlivening community, local, regional or ethnic cultural activity would be impoverished.23

Yet, even if media globalisation has an element of what Marjorie Ferguson has termed a 'myth' about it (in the sense of being a form of story-telling rather than an untruth), and even if empirical evidence of global trends is frequently overstated, there are still important reasons for addressing globalisation issues in this context.24 Anthony Giddens has noted that, because the technologies of communication increasingly function in a truly global and largely seamless fashion, the impact of external forces is pervasive, they may escalate suddenly and, as a result, they need to be taken into account by domestic industries and governments.25 The obvious example of this in another context is the way in which global financial markets now dwarf national central banks, meaning that the insulation of a national currency from external economic forces is no longer possible in the way that it was 20 years ago (see Chapter 2). Similarly, the fact that books and music can now be easily bought from overseas through the Internet has not yet led to a dramatic shift away from buying locally, but this does not mean that the potential for intense overseas competition can be ignored. Up to 5 million Net-accessing Australian consumers could, for example, suddenly choose to buy these items overseas if, say, the price differential justified it.

Likewise, makers of Australian films, television programs and popular music must now not only factor in the competition for audiences in Australian markets. They must also take into account the scope to sell their product into international markets, if they are to recoup their costs at accepted levels of production quality, and the 'emulation effects' of high budget US product upon the expectations of local audiences and consumers. National players increasingly seek to align their activities to global trends and forces, and do so much more seamlessly than in the days of the 'comprador' capitalist and the 'branch-plant' economy. Again, this points to the limits of either/or thinking about the relationship between the local, the national and the global. As Linda Weiss has argued in relation to East Asian industrialisation, national policy can be used as much to promote global integration and 'push firms abroad' as it can to insulate local capital from international competition, reminding us again that 'globalisation must be seen as a politically rather than a technologically induced phenomenon'.26 This has become increasingly important in Australia in the early 21st century, since there are contradictory political dynamics in relation to media globalisation and how it impacts upon policy.

Media globalisation and Australia: an 'import culture'

Media globalisation can be seen as framing Australian media culture at a number of levels. At the broadest level, there is the extent to which Australia might be viewed as an 'import culture', or one that is especially open to global cultural influence, on the basis of its English language and strong historical and cultural linkages to the US and Britain. More empirically, the impact of media globalisation can be understood from patterns of international capital and image flows, and by the ways in which these are regulated and balanced by local media production. This has typically involved inflows from abroad, but there has also been cultural export, which we will examine here by looking at the international 'career' of Australian television programming in other countries.

Discussing the wide international and domestic success of the 1986 film Crocodile Dundee, the all-time top grossing Australian film, Meaghan Morris has pointed to its 'positive unoriginality' in negotiating the tensions between cultural nationalism and global film industry economics.27 Morris shows how Crocodile Dundee exemplifies the dynamism of Australian culture in turning its derivativeness as a British colonial outpost that has subsequently been profoundly shaped by US culture to its advantage, producing a 'recombinant' cultural product well suited to the demands of the contemporary global film industry, while also invoking a sense of place that is characteristic of national cinemas. Dundee also exemplified a form of 'export' cinema which Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka, in their histories of Australian cinema, saw as becoming ascendant in the 1980s. This form was associated with the growing involvement of private capital in filmmaking, and followed the state sponsored cinema of the 1970s, which placed a strong stress upon telling 'local stories to local audiences'.28 By the 1990s, Australian films such as Proof, Muriel's Wedding, Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert drew upon such diverse and eclectic elements that cultural critics such as Graeme Turner were provoked to ask what had happened to the sort of 'national cinema' that had been sought by the pioneers of Australian film policy in the 1960s and 1970s.29

Australian film and television provide important case studies of the degree to which success in international media markets entails 'playing at being American'. Tom O'Regan has referred to the 'double face' of Australian television. On the one side, cheap imported programs cross-subsidise local production under a policy regime of domestic content quotas. On the other side, industry economics necessitate generic formats that can be exported as low-cost filler into the programming schedules of multichannel broadcasters in Europe, Asia, and North America.30 Australian television production and reception is thus moulded by the import-export dynamic of industries which can benchmark against the most successful international models (the US and the UK). The television production industry has become increasingly global in its sales and investment orientation since the late 1980s. Australian programs were sold into international markets well before this period, with Skippy the Bush Kangaroo being the outstanding success, but the pattern has since changed. Financing for much high budget television increasingly comes from a mix of local and foreign sources, and some domestic production companies are expanding their operations base beyond Australia. Successful products have included serial drama ('soap opera') like Neighbours, Prisoner and Home and Away, higher quality drama series like Water Rats, Murder Call and Blue Heelers, animated series such as Blinky Bill, children's programming such as Bananas in Pyjamas, Crocadoo, Spellbinder and output of the the Australian Children's Television Foundation, the popular science and technology format Beyond 2000, and many mini-series, tele-movies and documentaries. This Australian 'talent' for successful low-budget television drama production has been noted internationally, and most notably in Britain, where Australian serial dramas have a particularly high profile.

Notwithstanding the pleasing potential of audiovisual export, it should not be forgotten that total export revenue barely touches the sides of a major historic imbalance in favour of imports. Australia's balance of cultural trade deficit is more than $3.2 billion (1996-97), with imports of films, television programs and video worth about three times export income. Foreign ownership of Australian media industries is also high, and is highest in the sectors that are the least subject to government regulation, such as cinema distribution. There is also a high concentration of print media ownership, with the global News Limited controlling over 70 per cent of the daily newspaper market. News' principal competitor in print media, the Fairfax group, owns approximately 22 per cent of the newspaper market, but is increasingly squeezed between the global leviathan of News and the local but aggressive cross-media interests of the Packer family, which controls the leading commercial television network (Nine) and is the dominant player in the lucrative magazine market. The 1990s also saw Australian production companies being acquired by transnationals, including the purchase of the Grundy Organisation by the UK based Pearsons, Artist Services by the UK broadcaster and producer, Granada, and the German EM TV group took a 50 per cent stake in the major Yoram Gross animation company. In the emergent pay television industry, AUSTAR is US controlled; US based News Corporation has a 25 per cent stake in the leading pay-TV company, Foxtel; and the UK based Cable & Wireless has a controlling stake in the other pay-TV provider, Optus Vision. While free-to-air television station ownership is predominantly Australian, due to foreign ownership limits of 25 per cent under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Canadian based Canwest has acquired an effective controlling interest in the Ten Network (although its shareholdings comply with foreign ownership limits under the Act).

Towards a new configuration

Although Australian media culture has always been integrated into global investment, production and distribution circuits, the forms of this integration have changed in significant ways since the early 1990s. Two developments have been critical. Firstly, there has been a sharp increase in the amount of foreign investment in Australian feature film and TV drama production, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of total investment. This is leading to major changes in the types of production taking place in Australia, and, in particular, is leading to an uncoupling of the nexus between the industry policy goals for film and television production and the cultural policy goals of representing and reflecting upon aspects of Australian identity and culture. Secondly, there have been significant cutbacks in the amount of Commonwealth government support for local media production, with reduced funding for film production agencies and, particularly, for public broadcasting.

These trends have taken place at a time when new media technologies and new services such as pay-TV have promoted cultural imports and integration into global markets. The significance of international trade agreements for national cultural policy became more apparent after the 1998 High Court decision concerning the Closer Economic Relations (CER) trade agreement between Australia and New Zealand, which found that material produced in New Zealand had to count as 'Australian' for the purpose of quotas. The decision confirmed that policy objectives designed to foster an Australian cultural identity can be overridden by trade policy objectives, and it drew attention to the fact that most legislation is drafted to include provisions stipulating that 'domestic' law cannot contradict international treaties and agreements. This international override is of growing significance because the push toward international trade liberalisation through the WTO and regional trading blocs is strongly supported by the Howard Coalition Commonwealth government.

The Howard government holds that the anticipated net economic benefits from low trade barriers politically outweighs diminished cultural sovereignty, and that commodity exporting nations such as Australia derive particular benefits from multilateral free trade agreements. These claims are hotly contested by Australia's audiovisual production industry groups, which argue that Australia's film and television industries are already highly internationalised, and that further liberalisation will significantly erode cultural sovereignty and the capacity to develop effective national cultural policies.31 There was growth in employment, production and investment in the Australian film and television industries in the 1990s, but it became increasingly bifurcated between Australian production, which has been relatively static since the mid-1990s, and foreign productions and co-productions taking place in Australia, which have boomed. The Warner Roadshow studios on the Gold Coast has been a significant foreign production site since the late 1980s, and this trend has been reinforced by the opening of the Fox Studios in Sydney and the development of the Viacom-Paramount site at Melbourne's Docklands. Much of the growth in production in the late 1990s was driven by films being made in Australia under foreign financial and creative control, such as The Matrix, the Star Wars films and Mission Impossible II, and co-productions, such as Moby Dick, Farscape and Beastmaster. The major Australian feature film production in this period was Babe: Pig in the City, which was financed by Universal Studios with a budget estimated at $100 million and created a strong one-off increase in national production in 1997-98.

What these developments point to is the possibility of film and television production taking place in Australia, with significant Australian creative and financial input, but being designed for 'global' (for the most part, North American) markets, with little or no distinctly Australian cultural resonance. There has been longstanding disquiet about the fragility of this situation and its relationship to the cultural objectives that public funding and regulatory support for film and television production are aimeds at. We have noted that foreign productions and co-productions provide employment opportunities for Australian creative personnel, the maintenance of infrastructure, and flow-on benefits to the local economy, but these benefits should not necessarily be seen as realising Australian cultural policy goals. The productions are often made for US film and cable markets, and in many cases 'actors employed on these productions are required to perform with American accents'.32 The long-term sustainability of this production framework is also vulnerable to exchange rate fluctuations and trends in comparative labour costs.

The flip side to the rise of foreign investment in Australian film and television production is the decline in Commonwealth direct funding support for audiovisual industries since the election of the Howard government in 1996. Particularly significant in this regard have been the cuts in funding to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) since 1996, and, in 1998, the abolition of the Commercial Television Production Fund - an initiative from the Keating Labor government's Creative Nation cultural policy statement. Cuts to ABC funding have had a significant impact upon production levels in the principal import-competing areas of television production, such as drama, children's programs and documentaries, and upon the areas of radio and television where the ABC is the principal or sole provider, such as arts and educational programs. These gaps have not been filled by new production activity from the commercial free-to-air or pay-TV sectors. The Commercial Television Production Fund was a $55 million public investment in commissioning new quality Australian drama series, mini-series, children's programs, documentaries and telemovies for commercial television (in addition to what is produced in order to meet the Australian content quotas). The Fund directly generated an additional $20 million in private funds for a total of 81.5 hours of local programming, and indirectly generated an additional $60 million for 186 hours of Australian drama content (as six of the pilots commissioned through the Fund were subsequently developed into series). These two policy decisions contributed significantly to the 27 per cent fall in Australian TV drama production between 1997-98 and 1998-99.

There are worrying signs that the decline in local production may not simply be a consequence of short term policy decisions: it may be intersecting with longer term shifts in audience preferences. While it remains the case that Australian programs dominate the top 20 rating programs on Australian television, a recent study by Tony Bennett, Michael Emmison and John Frow points to an age-based bifurcation in these ratings figures, between older Australians who prefer local dramas such as Blue Heelers, Water Rats and Sea Change, and younger audiences, who prefer imported programs such as Seinfeld, Friends and The Simpsons.33 This trend intersects the higher number of pay-TV viewers among those in the 5-12, 13-17 and 18-24 age groups, who prefer the medium with the lowest levels of Australian content.34 Conversely, a recent study undertaken by the Communications Law Centre for the ABC indicates that there remains a strong correlation between the availability of Australian content and its use by Australian audiences and consumers, indicating that the primary issue for policy makers remains that of ensuring the supply of local media in the context of globalisation.

Digital TV: Competition and policy in a convergent environment

The high levels of Australian content on free-to-air television have been historically buttressed by, on the one hand, government support for the ABC as a national public broadcaster, providing a diverse range of locally produced programming for all sections of the Australian community, and, on the other, the setting of Australian content quotas for commercial free-to-air broadcasters, requiring that 55 per cent of all programs broadcast be locally produced, with additional quotas for drama, children's programming and, since 1996, documentaries. Systems for Australian content regulation, which have been in place in various forms since the 1960s, has been successful in ensuring local content on commercial TV, with all three major networks currently meeting the overall 55 per cent transmission quota and the various requirements for drama, documentary and children's programming. The quid pro quo for the quotas has, however, been significant protection from new competitors through policies such as the 'three-stations to an area' rule enshrined in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. This policy has led to the capital city TV stations earning average profits of 25-30 per cent for most of the 1990s, three times the average rate of profit for Australian industry as a whole.36

These arrangements were historically justified on the basis of spectrum scarcity, but have been increasingly hard to reconcile with technological changes that promote media convergence, the development of new services, and the entry of new players into broadcasting. Pay-TV was in many respects the harbinger of these changes, providing new competition for audiences, programming and, to a lesser extent, advertisers. It also developed programming models which made much greater use of overseas material, particularly in areas such as sport, documentary and infotainment programming, where the 'cultural discount' of audience preferences for local as opposed to imported programming is lower than drama.37 It has always been difficult to enforce local content quotas on pay-TV, with the ABA finding in 1998 that only four of the 16 predominantly drama based channels had met the regulatory requirement to spend at least 10 per cent of annual program expenditure on new Australian drama. Local content quotas have proved impossible to extend to converged media forms such as the Internet, although there is an identifiable preference among Australian Internet users for locally-based information and entertainment sites, such as the NineMSN site and ABC Online, suggesting that there is value in policy initiatives to promote and maintain an Australian online presence on the World Wide Web.38

The logic of the quid pro quo, or what has also been termed the social contract in broadcasting - whereby local content quotas and other public policy goals are underpinned by industry protection for existing broadcasters - has been extended into the domain of new media with the Howard government's framework for managing Australia's transition to digital television. The framework adopted a 'narrow' understanding of digital TV as primarily an extension of existing TV services, emphasising the development of high-definition TV (HDTV), which is a heavy user of available spectrum, and setting strict limits upon the use of video and program content on new formats such as datacasting. This is similar to policies in the US, where incumbent broadcasters have been provided with what Jock Given has described as 'a "rails run" into digital transmission ... [as] the carrot with which to ensure free-to-air broadcasters' commitment to providing television "in the public interest" into the future'.39 By contrast, Britain has emphasised multi-channelling over HDTV. There has been a particular interest in Britain, the US and Australia in encouraging public broadcasters to develop multi-channel services, although it is unclear at this stage whether the commitment in Australia will be backed by Commonwealth government support to the ABC and SBS for the new infrastructure necessary to maximise the potential of digital broadcasting to revitalise the mission of public broadcasting.

The Commonwealth government's approach to digital TV has been widely seen as a set of decisions primarily benefiting the Packer family's Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), the owner of the Nine Network. The loudest criticisms have come, not surprisingly, from the Murdoch's News Corporation, which had sought to establish a fourth digital-only commercial network and provide enhanced and interactive services through set-top boxes (as its affiliate Sky Digital had done in Britain), rather than developing HDTV. In terms of media globalisation, the Howard government's digital TV decision could be seen in one sense as favouring local capital over transnational capital, and prioritizing the protection of existing services over the development of new services. In that respect, it marks a surprising return to what Hugh Emy has described as the political culture of 'protection all round' in Australian public policy, whereby 'each major interest or producer group acquiesced in policies designed to accommodate the others in return for a special quid pro quo for itself'.40

The digital TV decision, and the quid pro quo approach to media policy more generally, have been subject to a withering critique by the Productivity Commission in its review of broadcasting legislation in 1999. The Productivity Commission was highly critical of the Broadcasting Services Act, which it considered to be outdated, administratively complex, contrary to principles of sound public policy, and an inadequate base from which to respond to the challenges of digitisation, technological convergence and new media services. It also found that the framework was inconsistent with national competition policy in a number of areas: the three-station limit on broadcast television services in a licence area was one, and the operation of the anti-siphoning list, which restricted access for subscription broadcasters to various sports events, was another. The argument that entry restrictions were a necessary condition for enabling the commercial broadcasting industry to meet cultural policy objectives, such as Australian content and children's programming standards, was regarded as an unconvincing justification for maintaining anti-competitive arrangements. It was observed that the costs of meeting local content objectives (estimated at about $105 million for the three commercial networks in 1997-98) were far lees than the benefits derived from restricted access to broadcasting licences, both in terms of licence value (estimated at $347 million for each licence in Sydney and $201 million for each licence in Melbourne alone), and the high levels of industry profitability.41

The Productivity Commission thought that extending the logic of 'trade-offs' between existing players and the protection of incumbent broadcasters into digital broadcasting, a media domain which is likely to be profoundly different, would be a major mistake. It believed that this decision would generate policy outcomes that reduced the efficiency of spectrum management; created complex, artificial and arbitrary restrictions upon the development of new services; restricted the diversity of services available to consumers; limited the likelihood of developing new and innovative media services in Australia; and maintained an anti-competitive arrangement which unduly benefited incumbent broadcasters in ways not commensurate with other social and cultural policy benefits from local content regulations.42 The Productivity Commission instead recommended a liberalised conversion regime, a broad definition of datacasting, and the establishment of greater tradeability of access to spectrum rights in order to promote the introduction of new services and new players by establishing a more contestable market in broadcasting. Adjudication of these competing claims is partly political, but is also related to audience behaviour, insofar as take-up rates for HDTV will be a critical barometer of whether public policy has been correct or negligent in judging the public mood in relation to converging media. If the Productivity Commission's assessment is correct, the Howard government's digital TV decision could unravel as early as 2003 on the basis of a serious misjudgment of consumer demand for new technologies and services.

Conclusion: A cluster of policy issues

A key element of media policy in Australia has been to ensure a 'safety net' for local production and local content in an environment which is highly exposed to international media flows and is characteristically an 'import culture'. Australian content regulations for commercial television, support for two national public broadcasters, funding mechanisms for the audiovisual sector, and limits on the foreign ownership of key information and communication entities have all been elements of policy aimed at sustaining cultural sovereignty in the context of media globalisation. Policy initiatives designed to ensure the supply of local content through the regulation of distribution and support for local production have been matched, in differing degrees across different media, by significant interest among Australian audiences in the local product, and by some success in international media and cultural markets since the 1980s.

This policy configuration is now being challenged on a number of fronts, ranging from new delivery technologies which challenge the sustainability of local content regulations through to increasing foreign ownership and the uncoupling of local production from the development of a distinctive national culture, and on to a decline in Commonwealth funding for public broadcasting and film production agencies and a growing integration of audience preferences - particularly among younger audiences - with globalised forms of cultural content. There are also the questions of whether the protection of broadcasters as part of a social contract to meet local content objectives is either consistent with national competition policy or an effective means of achieving cultural policy goals, and of the compatibility of national cultural policy initiatives with Australia's obligations under international treaties and trade.43In all, media harbours a cluster of policy issues that will be extremely challenging for Australia's governments in an increasingly globalised 21st century.

This is chapter 5 from Globalisation: Australian impacts, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2001. Terry Flew is a Lecturer in Media Studies in the School of Media and Journalism at Queesnalnd University of Technology, and is the Director of the Centre for Media Policy and Practice. He has written widely on media policy, media and citizenship, media globalisation, and the impact of new media technologies, and is the author of New Media Technologies: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Stuart Cunningham is Professor and Head of the School of Media and Journalism at Queeensland University of Technology. A prolific author on the Australian media, cultural policy, global television, new modes of providing higher education, and the media of overseas Asian communities, he is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a Deputy Director of the Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy, and the Chairperson of QPIX, Brisbane's screen resource centre. He was a Commissioner of the Australian Film Commmission from 1992 to 1998. His most recent book is The Business of Borderless Education (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000).

* This version of this chapter does not include two tables contained in the book.


1. Chris Barker, Global Television: An Introduction, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 13.

2. The relationship between culture and polity in modern nation-states is discussed in Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Verso, London, 1991.

3. James Carey, 'Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph', Communications as Culture, Routledge, New York, 1992, p. 204.

4. Ibid., p. 204.

5. James Carey, 'Space, Time and Communication: A Tribute to Harold Innis', Communications as Culture, Routledge, New York, 1992.

6. Arjun Appadurai, 'Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy', in Mike Featherstone (ed.), Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalisation and Modernity, Sage, London, 1990, p. 296.

7. Rupert Murdoch, 'Speech at launch of New World Communications', London, 1 September 1993.

8. Quoted in McKenzie Wark, Virtual Geography: Living with Global Media Events, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1994, p. 36. Ironically, this attitude has parallels in a form of Marxist critique that welcomes globalisation, since it allows the contradictions of capitalism and the conflict between capital and labour to become more explicit. Ellen Meiskins Wood, for example, proposes that globalisation is nothing more than 'capitalism itself reaching maturity' (Ellen Meiskins Wood, 'Modernity, Postmodernity or Capitalism?' in Robert W. McChesney, Ellen Meiskins Wood & John B. Foster (eds.), Capitalism and the Information Age, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1998, p. 48), while Dick Bryan and Michael Rafferty argue in their analysis of the integration of the Australian economy into global markets that the 'underlying issue is how capitalism works as a system, with globalisation merely a facet of that system' (Dick Bryan & Michael Rafferty, The Global Economy in Australia: Global Integration and National Economic Policy, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1999, p. 236). This otherwise curious alignment reflects the longstanding perspective in both the classical liberal and Marxist intellectual traditions that nationalism is a transient political phenomenon, destined to decline over time as societies become more cosmopolitan or as capitalism reaches maturity, and that, as Stuart Hall has observed, 'attachments to nation, like those of tribe, region, place, religion, were thought to be archaic particularisms which capitalist modernity would, gradually or violently, dissolve or supersede' (Stuart Hall, 'Culture, Community Nation', Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1993, p. 393).

9. Herb Schiller, Communication and Cultural Domination, M. E. Sharpe, New York, 1976; Kaarle Nordenstreng & Herbert I. Schiller (eds), Beyond National Sovereignty: International Communication in the 1990s, Ablex, Norwood, N.J., 1993.

10. Edward S. Herman & Robert W. McChesney, The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism, London, Cassell, 1997, pp. 153-55.

11. Department of Communications and the Arts, Creative Nation: Commonwealth Cultural Policy, AGPS, Canberra, 1994, pp. 6-7.

12. Tom O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1993, pp. 70-75. Australian Broadcasting Authority, Trends and Issues, No. 6, June 1999.

13. Ibid., p. 100.

14. Paul Hirst & Grahame Thompson, Globalisation in Question: The International Economy and the Possibilities of Governance, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1996.

15. O'Regan, p. 102.

16. Richard Collins, 'National culture: A contradiction in terms?,' in Richard Collins, Television: Policy and Culture, Unwin Hyman London, 1990; Graeme Turner, 'Of rocks and hard places: The colonised, the national and Australian cultural studies', Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1992; Philip Bell & Roger Bell, 'The Dilemmas of "Americanisation"', in Phillip Bell & Roger Bell (eds.), Americanization and Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1998, pp. 1-14; Alastair Davidson, From Subject to Citizen: Australian Citizenship in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

17. John Tomlinson, Cultural Imperialism, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1991, p. 104.

18. Ien Ang, 'Global media/local meaning', in Ien Ang, Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences for a Postmodern World, Routledge, London, 1996, p. 153.

19. Michael Tracey, 'Popular Culture and the Economics of Global Television', Intermedia, Vol. 16, No. 2, March 1998.

20. Philip Schlesinger, 'On National Identity (II): Collective Identity in Social Theory', in Philip Schlesinger, Media, State and Nation: Political Violence and Collective Identities, Sage, London, 1991, p. 162.

21. 'Local Content and Diversity: Television in Ten Countries', A Report for NZ On Air, June 1999.

22. Albert Moran, Copycat TV: Globalisation, Program Formats and Cultural Identity, University of Luton Press, Luton, 1998; John Caughie, 'Playing at Being American', in Patricia Mellencamp (ed.), Logics of TelevisionAustralian Television and International Mediascapes, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne & Cambridge, 1995.

23. Stuart Cunningham, Framing Culture: Criticism and Policy in Australia, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1992, p. 43.

24. Marjorie Ferguson, 'The Mythology about Globalisation', European Journal of Communication, Vol. 7, 1992.

25. Anthony Giddens, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 30-34.

26. Linda Weiss, 'Globalisation and the Myth of the Powerless State', New Left Review, No. 225, September-October 1997, p. 23.

27. Meaghan Morris, 'Tooth and Claw: Tales of Survival and Crocodile Dundee', in The Pirate's Fiancee: Feminism, Reading and Postmodernism, Verso, London, 1988.

28. Susan Dermody & Elizabeth Jacka, The Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a Film Industry, 2 Vols, Currency Press, Sydney, 1987; Susan Dermody & Elizabeth Jacka (eds.), The Imaginary Industry: Australian Film in the Late '80s, Media Information Australia, No. 50, AFTRS, Sydney, 1988.

29. Graeme Turner, 'Whatever Happened to National Identity? Film and the Nation in the 1990s', Metro100, 1994-95.

30. O'Regan, Ch. 4.

31. Audiovisual Production Industry Group, 'Australian Public Consultations on Further Multilateral Trade Negotiations in the World Trade Organisation', Submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Communications Law Centre, Sydney and Melbourne, June 1999, pp. 1-3.

32. Australian Film Commission/Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited, Report on the Film and Television Production Industry, November 1999, p. 25.

33. Tony Bennett, Michael Emmison & John Frow, Accounting for Tastes: Australian Everyday Cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and Melbourne, 1999, Ch. 7.

34. Terry Flew & Christina Spurgeon, 'Television after Broadcasting: Pay-TV, Community TV, Web TV and Digital TV', in Stuart Cunningham & Graeme Turner (eds.), The Australian Television Book, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000.

35. Australian content levels were defined as: High: greater than 50 per cent; Medium: 20-50 per cent; Low: less than 20 per cent.

36. Productivity Commission, Broadcasting: Draft Report, Ausinfo, Canberra, 1999, p. 42.

37. Tom O'Regan, 'Television Futures in Australia', Prometheus, Vol. 14, No. 1, June 1996, pp. 74¡V75.

38. Communications Law Centre, Programming Australia in the Digital Age, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 1999, p. 26.

39. Jock Given, 'Being Digital: Australia's Television Choice', Media and Arts Law Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, March 1998, p. 48.

40. Hugh Emy, Remaking Australia: The State, the Market and Australia's Future, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1993, p. 60.

41. Productivity Commission, pp. 143, 147.

42. Ibid., pp. 131, 134, 136.

43. An option put forward by Steve Vizard, Director of Artist Services, in the 1999 Andrew Olle Memorial Media Lecture, was that the ABC would provide exclusively Australian content, as the ability to maintain Australian content regulations on commercial broadcasters became less possible over time with globalisation and competition from new services. While Vizard's proposal provides an attractive future for the ABC that is consistent with the proposition that media globalisation makes national public broadcasters increasingly important as repositories for local content, it would require a substantial increase in funding for the ABC, which would reverse a 25-year old trend to cut its funding, and has the danger of reducing the diversity of local content by reducing the number of potential buyers for locally-produced material.


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