Imagining rural audiences in remote Western Australia
Linköping University Electronic Press
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communication and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
In 1979, Australia’s then-Communication Minister Tony Staley commented that the introduction of satellite communications to the bush would “dispel the dis-tance – 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 dis-tance 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 sophistica-tion 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 satel-lite 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”.