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Constructing the nation every night: hegemonic formations in Today Tonight and A Current Affair.

Despite recent format changes in commercial televisual news programming, tabloid current affairs remain an enduring feature in the Australian media environment. This article explores the particular ability of the tabloid format to politicise identities and communicate hegemonic formations across content. It considers how the journalistic use of textual elements in Today Tonight and A Current Affair [ACA] structures discourses of the nation. The appeal of commercial current affairs to 'ordinary' Australians results in programs seeking to align with popular discourses of national identity (Mclver, 2009). Yet, within Australia, the history of migration and multicultural policy also shapes the nation, meaning that the presence of cultural diversity impacts upon the discursive construction of 'Australia' in commercial programs. This article draws upon the concept of hegemony outlined in Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) political theory, where meaning is discursively constituted and contingent upon the specific social context. In doing so, it reflects on the journalistic use of production elements to politically position Anglo-Australian and cultural 'other' identities. It argues that, at times, textual elements are mobilised in incongruous ways to politicise identities, also engaging in a process of discursively negotiating the nation. By concentrating on Today Tonight and ACA, this article demonstrates how the commercial format lends itself to communicating hegemonic formations within and across the sub-genre of sexuality. By focusing on the production elements of the current affairs genre, the analysis follows visual format-oriented research (Cottle, 2001, 1998) and a production-oriented framework (Connell, 1979). The analysis highlights the ways in which production elements and communicative roles convey discourses of the nation through the positioning of ethnic individuals in Today Tonight and ACA.

Hegemonic formations

Hegemony has often been applied to media studies, particularly within the cultural studies approach to news discourse (Allan, 1998). Drawing on Antonio Gramsci's work, the hegemonic approach demonstrates how the media function to produce commonsense understandings of society that align with the dominant group's definition of reality (Allan, 1998: 109). This article uses Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) abstract political theory of discourse to understand how the nation is discursively mediated through hegemonic formations. It considers the ways by which visual, verbal and aural textual features are mobilised by journalists to communicate discourses about the nation, through the politicisation and positioning of ethnic identity. Although Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) discourse theory has mainly been used in political studies, it can nonetheless contribute to empirically understanding the representation of the nation in media studies. Indeed, a number of approaches have addressed the relevance of Laclau and Mouffe's work to the field of media studies (Carpentier and DeCleen, 2007; Dahlberg and Phelan, 2011; Torfing, 1999). As this article is concerned with identity and the nation, it will draw upon their discourse theory and the 'nodal point' to consider the politicisation of content in commercial programs.

Laclau and Mouffe maintain that the unfixity of the social space is a key component of the articulation of hegemonic practices. Discourse is 'a structure in which meaning is constantly negotiated and constructed' (Laclau, 1988: 254). It 'is an articulatory practice which constitutes and organises social relations' (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 96). While discourses and identities are not stable and fixed, Laclau and Mouffe assert that they must have partially fixed meanings to be comprehensible. These partially fixed meanings are categorised as 'nodal points', which are achieved through processes of articulation. As Sutherland (2005) notes in her discussion of nation-building and discourse theory, the nodal point is useful for understanding the ways in which meaning is articulated and reconstituted. The nation can be understood as a 'nodal point' that is discursively constituted and negotiated across different social groups within Australian society. The unfixity of the social space is core to the formation of hegemonic relations, as they 'depend upon the fact that the meaning of each element in a social system is not definitely fixed' (Laclau, 1988: 254). Hegemonic relations also depend on antagonisms, which 'attempt to destabilise the "other" identity but desperately need that very "other" as a constitutive outside to stabilise their proper identity' (Carpentier and De Cleen, 2007: 269). Furthermore:

A social and political space relatively unified through the instituting of nodal points and the constitution of tendentially relational identities, is what Gramsci called a historical bloc ... Insofar as we consider the historical bloc from the point of view of the antagonistic terrain in which it is constituted, we will call it hegemonic formation. (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 136)

Howarth (1998: 279) states that in Laclau and Mouffe's discourse theory, 'hegemonic practices are an exemplary form of political articulation which involves linking together different identities into a common project'. In multicultural societies, discourses on the nation are forms of political articulation whereby antagonistic cultural identities are linked together in negotiating the meaning of the 'nation'. In terms of media content, the journalistic use of textual features has a particular function in discursively constructing and rearticulating the nation through the political positioning of identities.

Engaging with the nation in current affairs

Within Australia, cultural diversity has an ongoing impact upon media studies and cultural studies, particularly in relation to the nation and the representation of ethnicity. Australian research has considered the limited constructions of Australian identity, pointing to the ability of televisual current affairs practices to engage in racial 'othering' (Bell, 1992; Jakubowicz et al., 1994; Phillips, 2011). While these studies have specifically addressed ethnicity in televisual current affairs, McIver (2009) outlines a number of studies that have addressed television and nationality (see Langer, 1998; McKee, 2001; Morley, 2004; Turner, 1994). Sutherland notes that in the British context, the work of Hall (1988, 1998) draws upon Laclau and Mouffe to apply discourse theory to the 'nation' in terms of immigration and Thatcherism. While these studies span media and cultural studies, they pertinently engage with the media's role in representing identities and constructing discourses of the nation. This article extends these studies by focusing on the journalistic production of stories within the current affairs format and the ways by which visual, verbal and aural elements can be mobilised to communicate 'national' hegemonic formations. Both Phillips (2011) and Mclver (2009) point to the significance of the current affairs textual genre in impacting upon representations of identity. Phillips (2011) demonstrates that 'racial hierarchies' exist in commercial current affairs content, despite commercial and public broadcasters being bound by codes of practice. When ethnic individuals are represented in current affairs, it is not just their presence that is notable but rather how the genre sets up their representation in terms of villains and heroes (Phillips, 2011). This analysis contends that the tabloid current affairs format lends itself to communicating hegemonic formations, and will contemplate how political connections are made to identities when the nation is negotiated in story content.

The context of commercial current affairs in the Australian media landscape is significant when focusing on how discourses of the nation are negotiated in Today Tonight and ACA. Commercial current affairs programs aim to address Australian viewers en masse, which relates back to their agenda to attract the widest viewership through a focus on issues of general social concern (ABA, 2001; ACMA, 2011). In comparison with the news format, the current affairs genre features a far greater focus on both 'ordinary' people and issues (Alysen, 2000: 181). The appeal to mass viewership and the focus on the 'ordinary' have meant that stories can be sensationalised within the genre in order to attract ratings. Both Today Tonight and ACA have ongoing viewership despite audience concerns over sensationalism and the quality of information (ACMA, 2009). Scholarly research has reflected on the processes of tabloidisation within the Australian media industry (Turner, 2005), and commercial current affairs programs have been marked by a shift from:

the traditional news hierarchy that privileged public sphere issues such as politics, economics and business in favour of private sphere stories about personal tragedy, celebrity, scandal, relationships and sexuality (Lumby, 1999: 47)

The tendency of current affairs programs to engage in tabloid practices in order to attract both viewers and advertisers does not delimit their ability to convey political articulations within private sphere stories. Rather, the journalistic use of textual features within the genre can function to communicate hegemonic formations by appealing to audiences across a range of issues. According to Smith (1998: 171), hegemonic discourse gains momentum when it develops into a structure in which 'more and more identifications become possible, functioning as a 'common sense' that responds 'effectively to everyday concerns about the economy, family, race, gender and sexuality'. Within Today Tonight and ACA, the practices of tabloidisation can link race, sexuality, economy, family and politics--enabling discursive negotiations of the nation to address as many issues as possible in establishing it as hegemonic.

Constructing stories

This article examines segments from the NSW version of commercial current affairs programs Today Tonight (Channel Seven) and ACA (Channel Nine). Data were collected across a randomly selected three-month period from March to May 2012, which generated a total of 576 stories, 285 from ACA and 291 from Today Tonight. Since the analysis focuses on the ways by which the journalistic use of textual elements discursively politicises identities in hegemonic relationships, only stories that featured both Anglo and ethnic individuals were selected. Although the current affairs genre contains a number of story types that can be examined in terms of the nation, this analysis focuses on the sub-genre of sexuality. This anchors the discussion to the representation of family and relationships, allowing for greater depth of analysis in how the nation is negotiated. Family and relationships form a contingent category, as they both link to sexuality and Normativity--particularly relating to the social health of the nation (Elder, 2007: 95-6). A total of five stories dealt with family and relationships and featured both Anglo-Australian and ethnic identities in a discursive negotiation of the nation.

The subsequent section considers the politicisation of identities and discursive negotiation of the nation through the journalistic use of visual, verbal, aural and communicative features. According to Laclau (1988: 254), it is important that discourses are not reduced to 'speech and writing ... but any kind of signifying relation'. Non-speech aspects of current affairs stories include music, visual components, repetition and also the positioning of individuals in different communicative roles. Connell (1979: 93) provides categories of televisual news production, and these are used to guide the analysis of current affairs content as they demonstrate the outcomes of journalistic decision-making and textual construction (see Tables 1 and 2). The codes from these tables are used as points of clarification throughout the analysis. They have been evaluated against contemporary broadcast journalism guides to ensure their contemporary relevance (Alysen, 2000, 2012; Boyd, 2001; Phillips and Lindgren, 2005), and some amendments and additions have been made. The 'actuality extract' has been modified to 'actuality extract (soundbite)' to clearly account for soundbites that stand alone, and do not feature an interview question framing the actuality. 'Actuality from another source' has been added to critically account for actuality that has been shot by another source or producer (such as police tape, footage from another program, and so forth) and reproduced in the context of program content. Music has also been added as a category of analysis within the production elements, as it has the ability to add further signifying meaning to information that is acquired through visual and verbal elements. It is not possible within the constraints of this article to provide a complete visual and aural breakdown of the five segments. Subsequently, production features and communicative roles are discussed in relation to their significance in politicising identities, leading to the discursive negotiation of the nation in hegemonic formations.

Politicising identities in Today Tonight and A Current Affair

Within Today Tonight and ACA, the five stories focusing on family and relationships analysed here demonstrate that textual elements are used in divergent ways to politicise cultural identities. When considering the nation as a nodal point, Anglo-Australian and non-dominant cultural identities feature to discursively negotiate the nation in a number of ways. Although the production consistently positions Anglo and ethnic identities within a hegemonic relationship, there are variances across segments in terms of the ways in which this occurs. In particular, the contradictory use of visual, verbal and aural information positions identities in incongruous ways and intermittently allows for positive connections to be made in content. Incorporating additional production elements used in the current affairs genre (1p, 1q) was vital, as music contributed to constructing contradictory representations. Music impacted upon the tone of the story across segments to either reinforce or contradict the visual and verbal information in relation to the politicisation of identities and the nation. For example, two stories use music in a way that is contradictory to the verbal and visual information provided (see 26 March 2012 and 27 March 2012). While the verbal content on 26 March 2012 focuses on establishing cultural similarities, the visual and aural modes of the story concentrate on communicating difference through sustained representations of the Middle Eastern 'other'. In comparison, on 27 March 2012, visual and verbal information sets up cultural and religious difference; however, the aural mode creates a rural country atmosphere, which alters the tone of the story to make an intermittent positive connection.

Including the category actuality from another source (1o) was significant, as it also highlighted some of the production constraints in the current affairs stories. Though Alysen (2000) points to the soundbite as the most frequently used production element in current affairs content, this analysis also found a heavy reliance on footage from another source (1o) across the five stories. For example, three stories substantially used actuality (1o)--this was either from another program or was older footage from the same program, used as a follow-up (see 27 March 2012, 30 May 2012, 9 May 2012). This repetition of footage is important in reinforcing hegemonic formations across content--for example, across content on ABC and Seven--but it is also notable that two of the three segments rely heavily on repeated footage to entirely represent ethnic identities.

The repeated reliance on expert types (2g) to contextualise information is significant, both in communicating hegemonic formations and creating political links to identities across segments. Lawyers and social demographers solely feature as experts throughout the segments, and all are male and Anglo-Australian. This choice mediates information in terms of legislation and connects it to Australian society across a range of serious issues--including the economy, social policy and culture. While the choice of expert may intrinsically be linked to the story sub-genre, it nonetheless plays into processes of sensationalism, connecting the issue of family and relationship to broader public sphere issues. By doing so, the nation features as a nodal point through which meaning is partially fixed, but discursive antagonisms between Anglo-Australian and non-dominant cultural identities are drawn upon to negotiate 'Australia'. This communicates a hegemonic formation by politically articulating and repetitively positioning ethnic identities as antagonistic and connected to a range of serious social concerns.

'Twin Sister Love Triangle' (Today Tonight, 30 May 2012)

'Twin Sister Love Triangle' presents a story that had aired the previous night on Insight regarding the love between an Anglo-Australian man, Mark, his Malaysian wife and her twin sister. The story questioned the boundaries their relationship crossed as it was effectively polygamous, despite only one sister being married to Mark. Within this context, it revisited a previous Today Tonight story, in which the sisters were attempting to be reunited despite migration difficulties. The segment includes an Anglo-Australian male breakfast radio host as a commentator (2b, see Table 2), with an Anglo-Australian male social demographer filling the role of expert (2g).

The nation is invoked as the host introduces the segment with the background picture including an Anglo-Australian man and two Asian women over the shape of Australia, filled with the Australian flag. The footage that follows reproduces actuality 1o (refer to Table 1) from Insight (SBS, 2012), with the selection allowing the individuals to explain the nature of their polyamorous relationship through the camera. While a reporter voiceover is used intermittently to contextualise the selected footage, the re-use of content serves as a reinforcing device. The discursive construction of the polyamorous relationship as sexually deviant is fortified across programs, especially as both the reporter and social commentator establish that it 'flies in the face' of Australian society. Visual and verbal exchanges establish the romantic relationship as non-normative. However, other textual elements distance the sisters' cultural identity. The selection of Insight actuality with reporter voiceover suggests it is the wife's compliance that has allowed this situation to occur, permitting Mark's unnatural love for her twin sister. Additionally, the Insight actuality visualises them conducting an everyday activity (placing three iconic Australian Tim Tam packets into their trolley), while the Today Tonight reporter voiceover establishes the social threat as their relationship is technically legal.

Subsequently, the cultural identity of the sisters is further politicised through the use of graphics (1l). This allows the reporter voiceover to inform viewers that polygamy is legal in Malaysia, as well as in areas practising Sharia law--visually and verbally pinpointing on the map Iran, Libya and Morocco. No further connections, apart from the sisters' Malaysian background, are provided to justify the extension. With the exception of these graphics, actuality with the expert and actuality with the social commentator, the segment is compiled from Insight footage or from the revisited Today Tonight footage that covered the reunification. While the sisters' sexual 'deviance' is visually referenced throughout (mostly through the sisters' embraces and kisses captured in the original Today Tonight story), a reporter voiceover explains that the wife's twin sister has left behind a family in Malaysia to pursue this relationship. This antagonistic feature of identities is linked back to the nodal point of the nation through the expert who politicises their negative portrayal. The expert contextualises cultural diversity as leading to an increase in cases of polygamy, particularly as one in four Australians is not born here. This links the non-normative relationship to ethnicity, sexuality, Islam and migration. 'Australia' is communicated through a hegemonic formation that relies upon the antagonistic positioning of the Malaysian sisters, by which they threaten the nation.

'Lifting the Veil' (Today Tonight, 26 March 2012)

'Lifting the Veil' documents a former Miss Universe Australia spending a day with a Muslim (Anglo) woman, Rebecca. It is presented as an intercultural exchange, going through everyday tasks. However, much of the story is spent both 'othering' and demonstrating similarities between identities. The expert is an Anglo-Australian social demographer (2g).

The sensationalist nature of current affairs is utilised across the opening actuality sequences, which construct the segmented nature of the Islamic community within Australian life. Video (1f) of Islamic women walking down the street in hijab is followed by that of Miss Universe Australia walking down a runway, functioning as elements that are aimed to sensationalise. The rest of the story attempts to resolve this tension by highlighting affinities shared by divergent cultural identities. Normalcy of daily habits and family life are established as the former Miss Universe Australia and Rebecca undertake everyday tasks. They have morning coffee with Rebecca's 'best mate', participate in volunteer work, eat lunch, visit the mosque, shop with Rebecca's friends, take care of Rebecca's children, and prepare a typical barbecue dinner with Rebecca's husband for their diverse range of family and friends. Rebecca tells us over coffee that she is an Anglo-Australian Islamic convert, while Rebecca's ethnic Muslim best mate tells us that she herself is 'extremely Aussie' on the inside. The divergence in beliefs and culture is referenced throughout the segment. Yet Rebecca and her family are incongruously represented as conventional through the depictions of normal daily habits, functioning to 'Australianise' their difference. In addition to visual elements, the journalistic allocation of communicative roles further engages in contradictory constructions. The expert suggest that 'native Australians, domestic Australians ... could learn a lot from migrant communities ... by the way they defer to elders'. The nation is used as a nodal point, whereby the Islamic identity is positioned as being antagonistic and peripheral to the 'Australian' identity. This distances Rebecca, who is an Anglo-Australian but politicised and hegemonically positioned due to divergent cultural values, despite production efforts being made to demonstrate affinities. The textual feature of music (1p and 1q) of a stereotypical Middle Eastern tone works to further distance and politicise identity. It is notable that an Anglo-Islamic woman effectively mediates a less threatening portrayal of Islamic identity. Despite the processes of othering and the contradictory discourses of identity, the text attempts a positive negotiation of the nation through normative representations of the family.

'Influx of Asian Brides' (A Current Affair, 26 April 2012) and 'Filipino Bride Fiasco' (A Current Affair, 9 May 2012)

These two stories are discussed together, as the second story revisits the content in the initial story. It is notable that in the second story almost all representation of ethnic identity are through the re-use of footage from the initial story. 'Influx of Asian Brides' introduces the phenomenon of Australian men travelling to Asia on romance tours and bringing brides back to Australia. It includes a lawyer in the role of the expert (2g). Interviewees (2f) consist of a Filipino woman who organises romance tours and an older Anglo-Australian male, Derek, who is hoping to bring his Thai girlfriend to Australia. 'Filipino Bride Fiasco' revisits the success of the man in bringing his Thai girlfriend to Australia. It also considers the multiple failed marriages of another older Anglo-Australian interviewee, Andrew, to three Filipino women. A different lawyer is used as an expert in this segment, and Derek's Thai girlfriend briefly features in actuality (1k).

In the first story, textual features politicise ethnic identity and discursively position the nation as being under threat from trans-national marriages. Initial actuality footage documents a tall, blond Anglo-Australian male reporter's investigation of the Filipino romance tour industry. Distance is reinforced through Asian and tropical music (1p), which accompanies visual and verbal information throughout the story. The reporter interviews a Filipino woman who organises tours, and visual footage is provided of the women available to him. While the women's ethnicity is visually apparent, they personally assert this through actuality soundbites (1h), stating that Filipino women are the best in the world. The emphasis on cultural difference is reinforced through reporter commentary stating that the town contains 'lots of happy mixed couples'. Visually and verbally, the non-normative nature of these relationships is referenced, citing large age gaps and establishing language barriers. The use of sensationalist visual elements frames the sexuality of the young Filipino women, and aims at shocking the audience. Video (1f) allows the reporter to state that the tour wraps up with a 'wild pool party', as scantily clad women dance and jump into the pool. In the second segment, an interview (1f) with Andrew allows video to zoom in upon photos of three young Filipino women, revealed to be his former wives. The nation is used as a nodal point as the reporter connects the relationships to economics and politics. These relationships are called into question as Andrew reflects that, because he has no money, it is likely that half of the women who have pursued him are after residency. While textual elements position non-dominant cultural identities antagonistically with respect to 'Australia', repetition across segments rearticulates the hegemonic formation.

The repeated references to both policy and lawyers as experts function to position the issue as a hegemonic formation. Within the first story, graphics directly follow actuality of the romance tour to state the number of individuals who had come to Australia on spousal visas the previous year. The focus on policy is maintained in the second story through the inclusion of the image (1f) of Derek flicking through a spousal visa application. In the second segment, an airport arrivals board is shown with a number of Asian and New Zealand flights (1f), as the reporter contextualises the number of people on the current spousal visa waiting list. This political connection is compounded by the information sourced from experts. The lawyer in the initial segment compares the issue of fake marriages to the 'boat people' problem, stating that the former is the far larger issue. Graphics reinforce this by showing the ratio of arrivals between the two groups. The second segment cites legal complications, as once partners are provided with permanent residency they are permitted to stay in the country even if the relationship breaks down.

The repetition of interviewees and footage also occurs across segments. The second story follows up on Derek, who has brought his Thai partner to Australia. It attempts to show the couple in a normative context, verbally referencing domestic bliss while visually showing them cooking and eating together. The cultural 'other' identity of the female partner is mediated through production strategies, which create a sense of distance. Any verbal interactions occur through questions that Derek asks her, and he mostly speaks to the reporter on her behalf. If there is any perceived normality in their represented relationship, it is undermined by negative connections to other personalities in the segment. After maintaining the 'authenticity' of Derek's relationship in the first segment, the reporter voiceover connects this to the Filipino women from the pool party scene, who feel that love can help them conquer migration barriers, trivialising Derek's appearance with his partner. Their appearance in the second segment is followed by actuality of Andrew and reporter commentary that Andrew has had five offers of marriage from Filipino women. Again, textual features are employed to politicise and position ethnic identities in a negative relationship to 'Australians'.

'$1 Town' (Today Tonight, 27 March 2012)

'$1 town' concentrates on the success of country town Trundle in choosing five families to relocate and live there for $1 a week rent. It details the decision of the Trundle Tree Change Committee to select some non-conventional families. This includes a singleparent family consisting of an Anglo-Australian widow and her two children, and a Muslim family. The story features the Muslim family's Anglo-Australian landlord as an interviewee (2f), and an Anglo-Australian woman from the Trundle Tree Change Committee as a commentator (2f).

The story is presented as a follow-up segment to a story covered by Today Tonight the previous year on the attempts of a country town to survive. The content draws significantly on footage from other sources (1o), both from the prior Today Tonight story and from Country Town Rescue (ABC, 2012). An actuality piece to camera allows the reporter to introduce the information that the town's first Muslim family was chosen to settle there. The representation of the family draws from another source (1o), reproducing and contextualising information from Country Town Rescue. The reproduced footage serves to highlight the family's antagonistic difference, both through dress and through the mother's assertions that they are Muslim and want to set up a Halal farm. The reporter reinforces this difference by querying their landlord on the townspeople's reaction to the family (1k). While these visual and verbal elements confirm distance as a family, the landlord responds that Trundle could stand a bit of diversity and they were excited to have them. Music evoking a country Australian atmosphere--rather than, for example, Arabic-themed music--is another textual element that underlines the affirmative representation of this family and 'Australia'. Interspersed footage from Country Town Rescue of the eldest daughter happily playing in a hijab among Anglo-Australian children also reinforces the positive communication of this hegemonic relationship.

The non-threatening assimilation into a dominant 'Australian' context is strengthened as the commentator recognises that the families have adapted to 'battler' identities, surviving both the wildlife and the natural environment. While this family's cultural identity is used to position it in contrast to the Anglo-Australian identities, there is no linking to wider issues of social concern such as immigration and politics. Rather, they are shown as a conventional family and connections are made to the economic benefit of their relocation to Trundle. It is concerning that they are mediated both through the opinions of Anglo identities and the re-use of footage. Effectively, throughout this segment, the visual, verbal and aural elements interact to 'Australianise' their presence.


This analysis of selected commercial current stories demonstrates how journalists structure textual elements to discursively mediate 'Australia' and communicate hegemonic formations in content. When the nation is considered as a nodal point, non-dominant cultural identities both within and outside Australia's geographical borders are used to mediate 'Australia' in varied ways. These selected examples drawn from tabloid current affairs programs highlight the contradictory nature of cultural representation in relation to Anglo-Australians. That Anglo and ethnic identities are consistently positioned in a hegemonic relationship is evident. However, inconsistencies in the way textual elements are used suggest that the representation of 'Australia' is subject to discursive negotiation. Of the five stories, three feature ethnic identities in an antagonistic relationship to the wider 'Australian' society, while the other two demonstrate processes of being 'Australianised'. Yet in these two stories the representation of ethnic identity is complex. It is apparent that the individuals are not quite 'Australian', even when textual elements are used in ways that, to some degree, assimilate them. The use of an Anglo-Australian woman to represent the Islamic community is negated through experts, as well as visual and aural elements, all of which establish that she is outside the bounds of the 'Australian' community. While the footage of the relocation of an Islamic family to an Australian country town also attempts a positive negotiation of cultural identity, the family is still presented as being different. This underscores the importance of understanding how production processes work to mediate the feature of both 'Australia' and ethnic identities in current affairs programs. These stories work to politicise cultural identities in different ways, at times communicating aspects of social cohesion and assimilation, but they ultimately fall back upon antagonistic hegemonic formations.

Within Today Tonight and ACA, the nature of the commercial current affairs genre impacts upon the way textual elements are used to construct information about the nation. The appeal to the 'Australian' viewership and the inclination to sensationalise information relates to the politicisation of content and identity. This analysis finds that the tabloid nature of commercial current affairs means that the sub-genre connects to wider issues in a hegemonic formation. In particular, the stories draw upon prior representations of cultural identities, which presupposes a long acculturation process to ensure audiences draw particular meanings from content. The discursive constructions also follow a pattern where antagonisms are communicated through visual and verbal elements, causing anxiety through a process of distancing. The antagonisms are managed in two ways: through the use of experts who contextualise the story or through the textual construction that humanises the 'other', making their story approachable to Australian viewers en masse. The linkages made between race, economy, sexuality and politics appeal significantly to the broader Australian socio-political context. However, the ways in which audiences understand these hegemonic associations from this analysis are unclear, and scope for further research exists. It is the contradictory use of textual elements that shows the political mediation of identities within Today Tonight and ACA. Given the popular appeal of these shows, there is an ongoing need to explore the ways in which 'Australia' is discursively constructed in commercial news and current affairs programs.


An earlier version of this article was presented at the Interculturalism, Identity and Meaning conference, Lisbon, March 2013, thanks to funding from the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University. The author thanks her supervisors, Dr Maya Ranganathan and Dr Anthony Lambert, for their feedback on the article, and is grateful to the anonymous referees for their comments.


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Tanya Muscat is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney.
Table 1 Production elements

a) Live studio 'piece to camera'
b) Live studio report
c) Live studio interview
d) Live studio debate
e) Actuality film sequence
f) Actuality with commentary over
g) Actuality with captions/subtitles superimposed
h) Actuality extract (soundbite)
i) Actuality 'piece to camera'
j) Actuality report
k) Actuality interview
l) Graphics with commentary over
m) Stills with voice/captions over
n) Credits/titles with music over
o) Actuality from another source
p) Music and actuality/graphics with verbals over
q) Music and actuality/graphics with no verbals over

Table 2 Communicative roles

a) Presenter

b) Commentator

c) Reporter

d) Chairperson

e) Interviewer

f) Interviewee

g) Expert

h) Protagonist in debate

I) Man/woman-in-street or ordinary person
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Author:Muscat, Tanya
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:May 1, 2015
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