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Creating public dialogue: bridging the divide between television policymakers and citizens

This thesis identifies a lack of public participation in both the historical and contemporary communication dimensions of New Zealand’s media regulation. It illustrates how this situation is evident even in policies such as the Codes of Practice which dictate programme standards for broadcast television. The thesis then argues this situation can be resolved and shows how Citizens’ Juries can act as dialogue bridges between media organisations and citizen representatives to enable community opinion to inform and benchmark policy decisions. The research programme first considers the twin narratives of social power and the restrictions of public participation in policy dialogue. This is addressed through data gathered from a series of literature reviews of the historical development of New Zealand’s press and broadcasting services. An additional review clarified the impact of British and American socioeconomic principals in the regulatory policies of New Zealand media, especially television broadcasting. Interviews with television officials and researchers in Britain and America informed this investigative review which disclosed a triangulation of influences in New Zealand media models. The thesis is framed in the context of an “action research” programme designed to specifically address the historic lack of public dialogue evident even in television policies that have a widespread community impact. The study confirms the documented ability of “action research” inquiry to provide large quantities of rich descriptive data and to generate new theoretical insights. A list of fifteen characteristics applicable to an action research study aimed at organisational change is used to validate this study’s methodology. The action research inquiry method closely matches this type of exploratory problem-solving research, as it requires interdisciplinary theoretical scanning. This proved beneficial as it enabled specific interacting theories to be located to precisely explain the social issues and situations that can emerge in a programme designed to resolve a real-world issue in a complex social setting. The action inquiry method also acknowledges the value of practice-based knowledge and other informal experiences that contribute to this research programme. As the preface relates, reflections about the action steps (part of the action research inquiry structure) were shown to increase understanding and theoretical insights, and propel the research process forward. These “active thinking” phases led to an investigation of the Citizens’ Jury methodology, its international practice and the planning of the Waikato Citizens’ Jury. In this event 12 Waikato residents debated the “good taste and decency” Code of Practice for Free-To-Air television with a number of television experts, including broadcasting executives, Broadcasting Standards Authority staff members, academic researchers and different aged television viewers. The thesis provides a rationale for the design and operation of the Waikato Citizens’ Jury as well as its evaluation procedures. The EPPT (Equal Preparation Participation Time) formula was an outcome of the Waikato Citizens’ Jury held from 2-4 July 1999.The formula components are designed to act as a policy guideline for the management of public dialogue events between policy-makers and citizen representatives. This study contends that the Citizens’ Jury model is a more ethical, and valuable public opinion gathering method than the polling theoretical methods in present widespread use, as its practice engages both parties in a process of informed face to face dialogue. The Jury structure works to equalise the normally asymmetrical relationship between policy-makers and citizens. The thesis asserts that the Waikato Citizens’ Jury demonstrates both a solution to the dialogue divide between television policymakers and citizens, and the problem of resolving public participation in New Zealand media regulatory practices. It also demonstrates action research displays the tenets of sound scientific research practice and the success of the EPPT dialogue formula in action. The thesis ends by concluding that New Zealand media organisations due to their persistent refusal to consult directly with citizens, especially about policies with a widespread community impact, exhibit a syndrome the author terms “institutional NIMBYism”.
Type of thesis
Macbeth, R. M. S. (2002). Creating public dialogue: bridging the divide between television policymakers and citizens (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14058
The University of Waikato
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