The final speaker in this session at ANZCA 2010 is Georgie McClean from SBS, whose focus is on cultural participation in a multicultural context. SBS has a brief to enhance cultural exchange and understanding, and with the move from public service broadcasting to public service media there are new opportunities for this through the use of new participatory media platforms. However, while some barriers to access are lowered, many constituencies can still be left out of the process - those already engaged may be those most likely to profit from new forms of engagement, too.
Participation is a concept of cultural citizenship - but participation does not guarantee political power; online debate is rarely rational and often fragmented, creating echo chambers of furious agreement; and the actual quality of debate needs to be examined. Georgie has examined this by exploring the online spaces provided by SBS's Insight forum-style talk programme (on its Website and through Twitter). Participants here respond to editorial prompts, and their comments are lightly moderated (more recently also for better narrative flow): it is an 'in between space' between editorial and fully user-generated content.
Georgie examined three episodes: around violence against Indian students; around Somali Australians; and around definitions of family following a change in surrogacy laws. Debate around these programmes played out across a live chat (contrived converation, with a moderation lag and competing topics) and 'your say' comments (a Web-based soap box environment with agreement, disagreement, and direct reply functions); Georgie coded this content according to different categories: expression of views, dialogue and debate, exchange of information, asking a question, disagreement.
Some 30-35% of comments responded directly to others. For the Somali programme, key observations were an overt resistance to the media representation; questions over the freedom of online debate; the use of the forum as an information resource; a wide diversity of expressed opinions; and an expression of personal identity online. For the Indian violence programme, the focus was on defining the problem; challenging media narratives; highlighting the complexity of positions on the issue; providing alternative frameworks for understanding it; compiling (anonymous) evidence; and organising concerted action. Finally for the family programme, the online exchange turned into an online support community and even an online confessional.
There was a great deal of self-regulation and norm-finding in these environments; debate was free, contradictory, and more multiperspectival than the editorial content; a wider range of arguments and conclusions was presented, which also led to problems in keeping the conversation going; and there were difficulties in defining the problems. Divergent views came together in this, but both as clashes and as conversations; an interesting back and forth emerged, with more complexity, anonymity, immediacy, and exchange than in the editorial content. It remains unclear whether this truly empowered users and had an impact, however. The debate was polarised but not ghettoised, at any rate.