Policy to People: An Investigation of the Public’s Interpretation of the New Zealand Government’s Wellbeing Budget 2019 Through News and Twitter Channels
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The Wellbeing Budget, released by the New Zealand Government on 30 May 2019, presented its expected revenues and proposed spending for the forthcoming financial year. The Wellbeing Budget was touted as being unique in that it focused on the “wellbeing” of New Zealand. This study sought to gain insight into how the public interpreted the Wellbeing Budget with the understanding that governments use persuasive language to promise a better future (Charteris-Black, 2011). By adopting a Corpus-Assisted Discourse Studies approach, this research examined the Wellbeing Budget and how it was interpreted by users of the social media platform Twitter. Three corpora were composed for the purpose of comparing the discourse during the period of two-weeks following the Wellbeing Budget’s release. The corpora included the Wellbeing Budget document, news articles about the Wellbeing Budget and tweets posted under the hashtag #WellbeingBudget. The key findings are discussed in terms of the theoretical positioning, relating to the intertextuality of texts and Stuart Hall’s (1973) encoding/decoding theory. The study followed the movement of the Wellbeing Budget’s text between genres (the Budget document, news articles and tweets). It found that the more ‘voices’ that were involved, the greater the negotiation and diversity of the public’s interpretation of the Wellbeing Budget’s discourse. It showed that the news media frequently reproduced the Government’s preferred reading of the document insofar as they quoted sources such as leading politicians and representatives of state agencies, to comment on the Budget. However, the examination of the tweets found that during the process of intertextuality, the meaning of the text was more likely to be challenged and interpreted differently. Twitter users observed the Government’s intended reading to some degree, but they also deconstructed the intended reading and viewed its messages in more diverse contexts; either indicating concerns with their own wellbeing or openly opposing the Government’s discourse. Nonetheless, by observing this process of communication, this research demonstrates open and democratic discussion involving a range of voices, enabled through news and social media, which is a core-component of a well- functioning democratic society.