The media ecologies of local governments: politics and place

Panellists: Travis Holland (CSU), Penny O’Donnell/Anna Schinella (U. Syd), Kristy Hess/Lisa Waller (Deakin), Julie Freeman (Deakin).

This panel explores the changing nature of media and its relationship to local government. The traditional roles of citizens, news media and governments have been altered through the interactive possibilities afforded by digital technologies. However, the effects of these technologies on everyday politics and democracy do not manifest uniformly. This panel will explore how local issues are constructed and contended within global information flows.

Holland will present on actor-network theory and local government, drawing on a case study from a regional coastal city council. He offers a framework through which local governments can respond to the vast numbers of heterogeneous objects that they are required to deal with in managing place. Holland describes ways for local governments to approach network mapping of their stakeholders, drawn from social network analysis approaches, and opportunities to ally themselves with other agents to meet their objectives.

O’Donnell and Schinella will discuss Radio Skid Row’s coverage of the 2016 New South Wales council mergers, including community-based pushback against super-sized inner-city councils that disenfranchise local communities and sideline local media. Skid Row is an alternative community station set up in 1983 based in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Marrickville. They argue the NSW government has not only politically disenfranchised the ‘local’ — by appointing unelected administrators to run 19 new councils in NSW until September 2017 — but also, in media terms, robbed it of newsworthiness. Put simply, fewer official sources mean less news about ‘rates, roads and rubbish’ and, more importantly, pressing local concerns and dissent.

Hess and Waller will present on the role of Twitter in a local planning controversy concerning a mosque for the city of Bendigo, in regional Victoria. Their analysis reveals how mainstream media and elite actors used Twitter to mobilise the controversy within wider information flows and engage political power beyond the local. Their findings highlight how legacy media logics, such as ‘old’ news values and traditional power structures, can dominate social media spheres, rather than promote wide participatory deliberation on an issue.

Freeman’s presentation will explore how contextually specific circumstances shape opportunities for local political engagement. Inconsistent access to digital communications infrastructure, the varying capacities and resources of authorities to utilise and adapt to digital technologies, and changes to local news environments all influence how local issues are addressed. She suggests that rural and regional local government areas are at the greatest risk of decreased scrutiny of political actions and decisions, ill-informed citizenries and the emergence of democratic participation gaps.

This panel argues that understanding of the changing dynamics of local democracy in the digital era requires detailed interpretation of the interrelationships between technological, political and social contexts within specific local settings.


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