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Abstract

The rise of satellite and cable across Europe during the late 1980s contributed to the restructuring of communications spaces that had previously been dominated by national broadcasters. These changes were viewed with concern by many media commentators. Summarising the debate in 1989, David Morley and Kevin Robins noted that ‘it is broadly felt that these new technologies have disturbing and damaging implications for established national (and indeed continental) identities. There is a common fear of both their potential to disaggregate fixed national audiences and communities and to create new ones across national boundaries’ (Morley and Robins, 1989: 11). It seems likely that digital broadcasting will further fragment national audiences, not least because it provides for an even greater emphasis on the type of ‘niche’ programming associated with satellite and cable (Richardson and Meinhof, 1999: 87). Public service broadcasters are faced with the challenge of retaining audiences for generalist programming, while transnational competitors can operate largely outside the limits of national regulation and orient their programming towards the most lucrative markets. In the Irish context, the troubled development of digital services has occasioned a renewed legislative and critical focus on the role of public service broadcasting in articulating national and cultural identity. But it is also possible to trace the ‘textualisation’ of new relations between broadcasters and national audiences (Richardson and Meinhof, 1999: 10). This paper adopts a textual approach to the analysis of Radio Telefis Éireann (RTÉ) during this transitional period. The focus of the analysis is RTÉ’s discursive framework, which encompasses graphic ephemera such as station idents, logos, lead-ins and trailers, as well as other aspects of scheduling, continuity and branding. This paper also considers the wider context for these shifts in orientation, by exploring television’s ‘re-imagination’ of Europe and the Web.

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