Understanding Audiences

Television Publics as “Cultural Indicators”

Authored by: Andy Ruddock

The Routledge Companion to Global Television

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138724341
eBook ISBN: 9781315192468
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the significant role that broadcast news audiences play in writing early 21st-century political histories, using Australia as a case study. In 2014, a siege in a Sydney coffee shop, enacted by a gunman who claimed ISIS links, was broadcast as a live TV event. The crime, which ended with the death of two hostages, took debates about domestic terror threats in new directions. It also prompted TV journalists to ask ordinary Australians how worried they were about terrorism. Thanks to digital technologies, many of these voices have been stored in publicly accessible forms. So, when future historians want to know what ordinary Aussies thought about terror in the early 21st century, they will be able to hear some of those voices. They will hear diverse opinions that often go off script. Broadcast TV archives preserve the words of people who feared Islam, people who feared Islamophobia, and people who feared nothing in “The Lucky Country”. But what all of this speaks to is Broadcast TV’s enduring capacity to convert audiences into political publics. Using George Gerbner’s concept, the chapter argues that the terror case study suggests that audiences are “cultural indicators” of TV’s enduring capacity to organise and express political consciousness.

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