Pondering the Future for Foreign News on National Television (2-3)
This article written by Kristina Riegert from Stockholm University discusses the ways television news media reinforce national perspectives in coverage of events outside their borders, and the potential consequences of this for mainstream television news. International news, as it is seen on national television, is still a rigid genre where people and events tend to be viewed either through national prisms or through generic characteristics common in hegemonic Anglo-American news sources.
While it is CNN’s rolling news format that appears to have caught on and led to a plethora of 24- hour news channels in regions all over the world, it is also the case that CNN has had to regionalize or nationalize (in the case of India, go into partnership) in order to stay in business (Cushion, 2010). At the same time, in a development reminiscent of the Cold War battle of short-wave radio stations, every self-respecting government seems to have started an English-language rolling news channel to challenge the claims of CNN or BBC World as worldwide distributors of news. Among these are Al-Jazeera English, Euronews, France24, China’s CCTV, and Russia Today—but it remains to be seen whether these will make a dent in the Anglo-American dominance of wholesale news. Especially when, as Boyd-Barrett parenthetically notes, “for the first time in history . . . the four most economically successful world’s news agencies - Associated Press, Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Reuters” are now located in North America.
This fact notwithstanding, we have entered what Cushion (2010) has called the “third phase” of 24-hour news television, which highlights the significance of regional media structures with multinational markets and translocal media. Influential regional Arabic, Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian corporations and their satellite television channels represent media flows that reflect diversity, hybridity, and the significance of non-Western media cultures on a global level The audiences for such transnational media, linked by geography, language, and culture, dwarf the small, elitist bi- and trilingual audiences of the English-language channels mentioned above. Straubhaar argues for the significance of regional and national media in the context of media globalization. Media that form “geocultural spaces”—those geographically connected and culturally linked across national boundaries—or “transnational cultural linguistic spaces”—such as satellite channels that link members of a Diaspora with one another and the mother country through their common language—are at least as important as other aspects of globalization.
However, while some non-Western media have successfully exported certain genres outside of familiar cultural spheres—such as Bollywood films to Africa, Indian soap operas to Afghanistan, or telenovelas to Eastern Europe and Russia—a global-dominance theorist will be quick to point out that 1570 Kristina Riegert International Journal of Communication there is less “contraflow” from the Global South than is sometimes assumed. Certainly, as Rai and Cottle note, non-Western satellite channels have nowhere near the same access to Western markets as the Anglo-American channels have to non-Western markets, despite the need to domesticate their products. They do, however, conclude after extensive research on the output of satellite news, both regional and global, that: . . . our position, based on findings and discussion presented here, revealed that there is indeed a communicative complexity both within and across 24-hour news channels, a complexity that should no longer be simply ignored or collapsed in a reductionist fashion under theoretical positions of “global dominance” or “global public sphere.”
The structural trends of regional satellite television indicate the continuing relevance of this “peripheral visions” group of studies. These studies demonstrate how it comes to be that regional media structures have grown in significance and that national/local television news has retained its importance while itself being influenced by international formats. In all the talk of unprecedented global flows of media across boundaries, the lessons of the Mohammed cartoon crisis are sometimes forgotten. The global dissemination of images and stories does not necessarily produce transnational news discourses (Eide, Kunelius, & Philips, 2008). Indeed, it is here argued that when it comes to news, linguistic, political, and cultural barriers are important reasons why global news is not as global as it purports to be.
The Paradoxes of International News
Although electronic media, and television, in particular, have been central to the globalization debate, television news is, in fact, a paradox. While often considered a driving force in global consciousness—conveying messages about a world that lies beyond our direct experience—it has historically cultivated a sense of national identity and unity, reinforcing notions of “us” already in the existing nation-state, and differentiating us from both “our friends” and “our enemies” in other parts of the world. As is often noted, foreign news is a genre where national identity becomes most manifest, where a government’s actions become synonymous with the nation itself, acting and reacting to events and issues on an international stage (Riegert, 2004a). Nevertheless, international news stories as seen in national television news programs are also heavily influenced by the structures, norms, and practices springing from a shared, if general, concept of international news (Van Ginnekin).
This “international news culture” can be said to exist insofar as it describes an infrastructure heavily reliant on international news suppliers like the Associated Press and Thomson Reuters, regional news exchange unions such as the European Broadcasting Union, and transnational rolling news channels willing to sell their feeds, such as CNN.1 In addition, the bureaucratic structures of Western journalists’
Gurevitch, Levy, and Roeh compared Eurovision News Exchange satellite feeds with what appeared on the main evening news in four different European countries almost 20 years ago. Despite national variations, all were dependent on EVN for roughly half of their foreign stories on a given evening.
It is not clear whether they have decreased in importance since then, with the rise of satellite news organizations have heavily influenced other journalistic cultures in terms of ideals (such as roles, epistemologies, ethical ideologies) and practices (heavy dependence on official sources). Indeed, the news genre itself—its timeliness, its recurrence, its “neutral” address and facticity, its basic narrative technique—is recognizable to audiences all over the world.
Chris Paterson, who has most recently written on the “hidden” dependence of the 24-hour news channels on international news agencies, describes how television news organizations, especially smaller national and local ones, are heavily reliant on the Anglo-American global news agencies. It is difficult to gauge just how dependent different television organizations are on the agencies, since their work can be used directly, such as taking live footage, relying on them for visuals, or using a story in its entirety, or indirectly, such as rewriting parts of stories or using them to set the foreign news agenda.
These dependencies contribute to the domination of Western-oriented news values such as prioritizing some parts of the world above others and cultivating common journalistic norms and formats among national or local news organizations.
Television’s dependence on the news agencies seems unlikely to diminish due to the muchlamented decline of foreign correspondents across the U.S. and Europe, coupled with the economic problems of the smaller national news agencies in the wake of chain ownership and digital media. Typical for many news organizations is the use of a combination of rewritten news agency material, freelance work, and “parachuting” correspondents who fly off to different hot spots at a moment’s notice. Broadcasters complain that in place of editorial concerns, accounts and budget restrictions now determine what foreign events correspondents will cover.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 12/05/2012