Democracy Extended or Imperilled by Technology? How British, Canadian, and Australian parliamentarians’ changing conceptions of the past and future transformed television regulation, 1950-1980
Politics today faces pressure to regulate digital technologies that threaten democracy. However, the urgency for politicians worldwide to regulate media is not new, as communication has always constituted the backbone of democracy. This project investigates how politicians’ changing engagement with the past and future of communication technology affected their regulation of television. It compares debate interventions and voting records of junior v senior, female v male, and conservative v progressive parliamentarians. Internationally, it compares the parliaments of Britain, Canada, and Australia, which share historical roots but developed different political and media systems. The project hypothesises that the post-war decades of 1950-1980 constituted a new ‘saddle period’ (Koselleck 2004) of deep media-political change, during which politicians shifted from pessimistic past-oriented television regulation anchored in previous media experiences to optimistic future-oriented television legislation. Paradoxically, in shedding the past and turning to the future of technology, parliamentarians presumably returned to a more distant past: the 19th-century ideal that media could democratise society. Methodologically, the project innovates with digital ‘structural’ collocation and ‘temporal’ sentiment analyses. The study will provide crucial new historical insights to scholarly and current debates about how democracies can incorporate new technologies for the good.