Pondering the Future for Foreign News on National Television (1-3)
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.
This is exacerbated as national television news outlets try to compete by emulating the formats of the 24- hour news channels. Although these trends are more visible in the United States and the UK, the public service organizations in many European countries have come under heavy pressure as a result of deregulation and commercialization. It is interesting, then, that foreign news still holds a privileged position in many countries with strong public service television systems channels. The European Broadcasting Union, which sponsors the EVN feeds, has been a most successful exchange, but there are a number of other news exchange unions between broadcasting organizations.
Van Dijk analyzed 130 newspapers from 90 countries and found that there is “a shared global concept of foreign news,” and that these similarities may be due to “the influence of a globally shared or imposed set of news production routines and values that derive from the cultural and economic monopoly of the Western international news agencies.
The author’s personal interviews with 33 foreign news journalists at Swedish TV4, British ITN and American CBS in 1999–2000 found this as an overriding concern, especially in the United States and the UK.
Domesticated International News Many European comparative studies have shown that news agency material or generic themes are used together with specific national angles to “domesticate” international events by putting them into national political or cultural frameworks of understanding. Claes de Vreese found that television coverage of the introduction of the Euro in different countries used similar “generic” themes, but that there were significant issue-specific national spins in European news programs. Patrick Rössler summarizes a seven-nation comparative study of a number of television news programs from the U.S. and six European nations, saying that despite rather similar visual formats, significantly different issues and actors make it highly unlikely that television news can contribute to “an integrated transnational public.”
Riegert compared Swedish, Danish, and British public service news coverage of all European stories appearing during the same week, and found that despite a certain convergence in terms of major stories, the attention and framing of these stories—and consequently the image of Europe and the European Union—differed according to the national priorities of the reporting country. Other, more comprehensive empirical studies have shown that the depiction of Europe or the EU in different countries very often takes as its point of departure the domestic political and economic consequences for the reporting country. For example, a common picture of the EU is one in which negotiations are “squabbles,” the bureaucracy is devastating, and the reporting country has the moral high ground. Despite the dependence on international sources, reduced regulation, commercialization, and competition, these very same sources can and often have been domesticated to comply with national frameworks of understanding.
National News Values
Most journalists and some media researchers would say that the newsworthiness of a given television news story depends on the geographic, cultural, and political proximity of the event to the audience in question; on judgments of how “important” and “relevant” the story is; on how fresh the information is; on the quality of the pictures; on how exclusive the story is; and on what other stories are competing to get into the evening’s mix. This means that the same foreign news story often gets different attention, space, and resources in the television news programs of different countries (Van Ginneken, 1998). Since the world’s crises seldom are isolated events, journalists must choose between several crises and wars going on at the same time. Paying more attention to certain crises and less to others tells us how newsrooms judge the importance of these crises for “our nation’s” interests. This explains why the headlines of the national press and television often display great similarity regarding major international crises, despite television’s much heralded dependence on good pictures and greater immediacy, and the more limited geographic circulation of the mainstream press.
Hans Henrik Holm newsroom study of foreign news in several media constituted an attempt to locate where the effects of globalization are the greatest. They were found to be greatest in terms of how deregulation, increasing competition, and technological change impacted the Danish newsroom’s “media structures and policy.” specialty correspondents were disappearing as the foreign desk became integrated with other desks and editors, while younger journalists were cross-trained to cover tasks including foreign news. In terms of journalistic norms and the foreign news agenda, however, little had changed. The electronic media (television and radio) still gave most priority to traditional foreign news stories, as opposed to nontraditional news stories such as lifestyle, human interest, environmental, and human rights stories.
Although Holm reported some indications that this was changing in the press, he concluded that editorial choice of international news stories still reflects “classical news criteria” to a large extent.
The reporting nation can thus be said to play a large role in the kinds of foreign news national television audiences are offered. Without the Internet or satellite channels in languages you understand, where you live largely determines the news menu you are offered about the world outside. However, in light of Holm’s study and the aforementioned changes due to media globalization, we must ask why these news agendas and narratives seem so incredibly resistant to change?
The fact that the BBC was less critical of the aggressors in these conflicts was thought to be related to Britain’s pragmatic approach to conflict resolution (“coalitions of the willing”), to its “special” relationship with the U.S., and to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s “constructive working relationship” with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev at the time (cf. Hellman, 2006). It also mattered that in Swedish political culture, international law was considered key for the defense of the rights of small states against aggression, and that Sweden gave diplomatic support for the separatist aspirations of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union. In implicit ways, the British and Swedish foreign policy tradition provided angles for the news programs, and therefore indirectly influenced the ways these conflicts were framed in each country.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 14/05/2012