Imagining Rural Audiences in Remote Western Australia
Keywords:Media, rurality, radio, satellite broadcasting, Australia
In 1979, Australia’s then-Communication Minister Tony Staley commented that the introduction of satellite communications to the bush would “dispel the distance – mental as well as geographical – between urban and regional dwellers, between the haves and the have-nots in a communication society” (Staley 1979: 2225, 2228-9). In saying this, Staley imagined a marginalised and disadvantaged audience of “have-nots”, paying for their isolation in terms of their mental distance from the networked communications of the core.
This paper uses ethnographic audience studies surveys and interviews (1986-9) to examine the validity of Staley’s imaginations in terms of four communication technologies: the telephone, broadcast radio, 2-way radio and the satellite. The notion of a mental difference is highly problematic for the remote audience. Inso-far as a perception of lack and of difference is accepted, it is taken to reflect the perspective and the product of the urban policy-maker.
Far from accepting the “distance” promulgated from the core, remote audiences see such statements as indicating an ignorance of the complexity and sophistication of communications in an environment where the stakes are higher and the options fewer. This is not to say that remote people were not keen to acquire satellite services – they were – it is to say that when they imagined such services it was in terms of equity and interconnections, rather than the “dispelling of distance”.
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