Indigenous voices and mediatized policy-making in the digital age
This article explores the potential of emerging digital cultures for Indigenous participation in policy debates in the rapidly changing Australian media landscape. From the Zapatista's ‘netwar’ to the ‘hashtag activism’ of IdleNoMore, Indigenous people have pioneered innovative uses of digital media for global connectivity and contestation. Digital and social media open up unprecedented opportunities for voice, and, in theory, participation in decision-making. But there is limited understanding about how Indigenous voices are heard at times of major policy reform, and whether increased participation in digital media necessarily leads to increased democratic participation. Leading Indigenous commentators in Australia suggest an inability of governments and other influential players to listen sits at the heart of the failure of Indigenous policy. This article presents two contemporary Australian case studies that showcase Indigenous participatory media response to government policy initiatives: first, the diverse reaction in social media to the government-sponsored campaign for constitutional reform to acknowledge Australia's First Peoples, branded as Recognise and second, the social media-driven movement #sosblakaustralia, protesting against the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities. This article brings together theories of political participation, media change and listening to ask whether key democratic institutions, including the mainstream news media and political decision-makers, can engage with the proliferation of Indigenous voices enabled by participatory media. We argue that while the digital media environment allows diverse Indigenous voices to be represented, recent scholarship on participation and listening extends the analysis to ask which voices are heard as politics is increasingly mediatized.