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 "Finnish Views of CNN Television News" by Brett Dellinger
"Because of the structures of the various discourses within this broadcast genre, structures which were imposed by the pressures of its encompassing commercial objectives and design, it has an inherent inability to communicate information in the same way as the written word."

"CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment."


"Cueing ... as an artificial contrivance becomes a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized."


"The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment..."


"Stuart Hall ... sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires--as well as our expectations. There is 'a shaping of the whole ideological environment ... a way of representing the order of things ... with ... natural or divine inevitability ....'" 


To Finns, it seems, American television news is read "with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning--as if ... emotions were totally disconnected from the text.  American audiences ... expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns..."


This chapter also appeared in Mediapolis: Aspects of Texts, Hypertexts und Multimedial Communication under the title: "Concision in American Commercial Broadcasts." 

For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.


check3.gif (144 bytes)Introduction  

This is a study of American commercial broadcasting, using  CNN and Finnish non-commercial broadcasting as comparative examples.  It concludes that the "commercial discourse style," as used on American TV and Radio, and now being copied around the world, is inherently different from the style used in European public service broadcasting.  Commercial broadcasting's discourse structures, as seen and heard on CNN,  are imposed by the pressures of commercial media, leading to inherent differences in the way information is communicated.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 1: The Finnish perspective

Broadcasting is still considered a public institution in Finland. In keeping with the tradition of public service broadcasting in Europe, channels are distributed in such a way that specialized tastes and needs can be met. As church, trade union and other organizational publications become less important to the average European as a source of public information, changes in the traditional concept of news will be inevitable. Developments in Finnish television news, in just a few years, could lead to television news program which resemble the templates now used in the United States. The real challenge to European public service broadcasting will be found in the traditional American commercial format and commercial style of discourse which has proven to be extremely efficient in fulfilling its purpose in American markets. CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not market competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 2: Beyond content analysis

Tempo and contrastive stress in speech are used to underline or call special attention to a sentence or phrase. Intonation and other forms of paralanguage and kinesics -- including voice pitch and gestures-- are especially effective in communicating nuances about certain aspects of a particular message. In news broadcasting, sound, video editing and other visual effects, such as rapid editing techniques, can be used to break up the monologic uniformity of the written word. Cueing is an artificial contrivance known all too well to American television and radio audiences.  It is a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized.

Update! Radio Squeezes Empty Air Space for Profit

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 3: Origins of the American commercial discourse style

Entertainment has become the "supraideology of all discourse on television," and the result is a massive case of indifference and a permeating cynical acquiescence shared collectively by most Americans who watch television. It also appears that America's leading trendsetter in public discourse, commercial television, is creating a society in which the most important world events are being interpreted by audiences in the same way that they interpret commercials. Large quantities of meaningless statistical data, under the semblance of objectivity, are offered to create the "image" of real information, but, for some reason, only provoke widespread insensibility. The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment and commercials, and while this may not fit the usual definition of propaganda, many critical media voices are claiming that it is still, indeed, propaganda.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 4: The problem of control
Update! AOL Time-Warner Merger

Stuart Hall offers an insightful perspective to the solution of this question. He sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires-as well as our expectations. There is "a shaping of the whole ideological environment...a way of representing the order of things ...with...natural or divine inevitability which makes them appear universal, natural and coterminous with 'reality' itself." According to Hall's explanation, the task of the media in western societies is, in addition to the commercial function, and the media's role of entertainer and informer, the winning of a general consensus on certain issues and insuring their credibility, validity and legitimacy. This, he calls, establishing "the real" for that which is taken-for-granted.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 5: Analyzing the media

Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an "overtly political agenda," which "serves to set CDA off...from other kinds of discourse analysis" and text linguistics, "as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics." ... CNN's news broadcasts can and will appear to the (US) culturally uninitiated as incomprehensible manifestations; or, perhaps, as unusual or exotic, foreign and bizarre occurrences; or as unexpected, astonishing, omissable or incorrect utterances. Contextualization cues are culture-bound and lead to confusion and stereotyping, but through the use of the lacuna model, a classification and organization of cross-cultural misunderstandings can be constructed.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 6: The Finnish audience

One popular Finnish television personality (Frank Pappa) has made a successful comedy career out of reading the day's news with totally unfitting facial expressions and gestures. The routine is meant as comedy, and Pappa is considered to be quite a clown, but the results are telling indeed because he reads real news, including the day's disasters, deaths, and battles. They are all read with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning-as if his own emotions were totally disconnected from the text. The satire, of course, is aimed at American news broadcasts. American audiences, of course, expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns, or see only disconnected, non-genuine emotions being expressed.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 7: Framing the News

In commercial television news broadcasting, especially in the United States, competition is the driving force behind the structuring of news frameworks. If one commercial news program or network devises a commercially or politically successful frame for a story, competitors are obliged to pick up the frame and continue with the story. To reinterpret an existing frame would be running the risk of contradicting media-established "truth," while frames tend to filter back to re-establish and re-define reality.

check3.gif (144 bytes)Chapter 8: Concision in the News

The encoder knows that American audiences are cynical and mistrusting of politicians. Audiences are given a "Situation" with which one can only be expected to agree. The message is that politics in America is indeed a dirty business "mired in hypocrisy and double standards." The result of such a discourse, that is, the message which is left unspoken by the performance on Crossfire, is that the only recourse is to remain a passive observer. Or, to quote George Orwell, "’Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him’ ...the moral in either case being ‘Sit on your bum’"..."Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it."

check3.gif (144 bytes)Conclusion

At one time the papacy in Rome extended its power over large areas of the European continent, a feat made possible in part by Roman Catholicism's ideological authority over all forms of public information exchange and distribution. The expansion of the Roman church provided the material basis for papal influence, interpretation, manipulation and control over most spiritual, political, financial, and military affairs, while it also created and maintained a fully functioning communications network uniting the entire continent. ... Today, as in centuries past, our own system of public information distribution, one whose ideological strength is derived from yet another selective interpretation of our world and its cultures, also offers a compelling--and often entertaining--way of viewing the world. This medium must also be put under public scrutiny. The very survival of our planet and all future generations are depending on the existence of a discerning, rational, and judicious communications medium capable of facilitating and addressing the grave issues of our day.

check3.gif (144 bytes)BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.

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