University of Tasmania

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Australia's 'smart power' challenge : its use of international broadcasting, and the contested role of public interest media

posted on 2023-05-28, 01:04 authored by Heriot, GW
Middle power Australia finds itself in a geostrategic landscape being denuded of the tall timber that once offered shade. Along with the epochal shift in the gravity of great power relations, Australia must deal with predominantly illiberal and dissimilar nation-states across the vast maritime zone of the Indo-Pacific, some of which are economically and militarily ascendant. Globally, the post-Cold War democratic project has suffered a crisis of legitimacy, and the future of the US as Asia's security guarantor is uncertain. Within the over-arching frame of Sino-American strategic competition sit sub-frames of issues and interests of existential or transnational significance. This thesis is concerned with discursive power, exercised through state-funded media, to optimise Australia's influence as an Indo-Pacific democracy. The focus is strategic rather than cultural: the role of multi-platform international broadcasting as an instrument of statecraft. It identifies as a cardinal issue the process of representing and converting Australia's social attributes and competencies into actual influence and persuasion. The term 'broadcasting' embraces terrestrial, cable and satellite-distributed audio and television transmissions, as well as the Internet and mobile telephony, and ancillary activities in territories of strategic interest. Distinctively, the thesis applies a cross-disciplinary framework of politics and international relations, media and communication, and elements of organisational sociology. It is informed by a combination of scholarly discovery and the author's extensive professional experience. The analysis dissects an international broadcaster's purpose, means, and the variables that enable or impede its work. The thesis challenges a common assertion that international broadcasting ‚Äö- as practiced by Australia ‚Äö- is an element of state-directed public diplomacy or a manifestation of non-coercive soft power. Rather, it is an instrument of discursive power projection on behalf of the hierarchical state in a world of networked communication. The core function of an Australian international broadcaster is to reach and establish a trusted form of engagement with target audiences, influencing agendas and framing discourse to provide a space in which power relations are contested. In establishing this facility, the broadcaster mirrors or models values and norms, and represents core strategic narratives on behalf of the state (as distinct from the government). Australia's 'Smart Power' Challenge has two halves. Part A describes and evaluates the global development of international broadcasting, defining its function in statecraft using theories of non-military or social power projection. It develops an analytical framework to examine Australia's international broadcasting experience. Part B applies the analytical framework to the political history of the multi-lingual international broadcaster, Radio Australia, concentrating on the final decades of the Cold War. Radio Australia achieved considerable success in reaching and engaging target audiences during that earlier period of global strategic competition and regional discord. But the broadcaster's effectiveness suffered from the absence of strategic consistency from government, flawed legislation and institutional arrangements, inadequate resources, and sub optimal professional practices. This thesis identifies what is required for international broadcasting to optimise its efficacy in Australian statecraft: strategic foresight and clarity of political purpose; processes of effective inter-cultural communication; core strategic narratives that frame the broadcaster's editorial outlook, deployment of resources, and style. A distinction must be drawn between the broadcaster's function as a trusted transmission channel and its role in mediating political discourse on behalf of the state. Conclusions drawn from this study, including the Cold War-era history of Radio Australia, have contemporary relevance for the planning and deployment of state-sponsored media as instruments of discursive power


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