Balance, binary debate and missing women: a discourse analysis and creative response to 30 years of the abortion debate on RTÉ current affairs television, 1983-2013
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Since the introduction of a foetal right to life into the Irish Constitution in 1983, abortion has persisted as a contentious issue in public debate in Ireland. This practice-based study investigates Irish public discourse on abortion conducted in the context of television current affairs programming in national media. Public affairs programmes about contentious issues such as abortion adhere to the convention of balanced and objective debate. This thesis argues that the concept of balance in broadcasting has worked to limit the scope of the debate, especially in relation to the experience of the thousands of Irish women who travel each year to other jurisdictions to avail themselves of abortion services legally available elsewhere. The thesis provides a discourse analysis of 52 television current affairs programmes concerned with the subject of abortion over three decades, 1983-2013, and broadcast by RTÉ television (the Irish national public service broadcaster). The analysis focuses on four selected timeframes (1981-83, 1992-94, 1997-99 and 2011-13) as examples of contentious periods in the Irish abortion debate. The interrogation of the current affairs data is textual, intertextual, historically contingent, and analysed with reference to the production conventions of the current affairs format. Norman Fairclough (1989) argues that resistance to ideology working through language is dependent on people developing a critical consciousness of discourse, rather than just experiencing it. This observation provides the foundation for the approach in this knowledge production project. The film practice element of the project has produced a creative critique and response to the binary construction of abortion discourse in the form of a dual-film installation. In Film One, the television current affairs programmes examined in the discourse analysis were reconfigured and edited to create a representative summary of the public abortion debate over three decades. Film Two is a recreation of the abortion journey taken by Irish women across the Irish Sea. A two-sided screen format constructs a dual perspective, which allows the audience to move freely between Film One and Film Two, or between two sides of the same story.