"Finnish Views of CNN Television
News" by Brett Dellinger
"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..."
For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.
Chapter 1: The Finnish perspective
In modern Finland, standards of education and literacy are high, a result of Finland's endeavors for independence and nationhood. In 1994, according to the World Competitiveness Report, Finland's workforce ranked tenth among the most qualified workers in the world, a result of high standards and quality in public education, quality secondary schooling and on-the-job training, as well as computer literacy.
Although Finland joined the European Union in 1995, it cannot neglect its common border with Russia which it has had since independence. Even before Lenin granted independence to the former "Imperial Russian Grand Duchy" in 1917, Finland and its expertise in manufacturing served Russia's needs for modern, high-quality goods and skilled labor. Russia, regarded throughout the nineteenth century as the most backward power in Europe, had annexed the former Swedish colony in the spoils of the 1808-1809 war. With a remainder of former Swedish settlers, mostly farmers, living along the coast and a small Swedish-speaking nobility left behind (only an echo of Sweden's imperial rule), Finland continued to exist in the shadow of imperial Russia, but as an outpost and buffer zone against Russia's most formidable western enemies.
The First World War and the Russian October Revolution, though advantageous for Finland's prospects for independence, exerted a divisive force within the country. In 1916 Lenin suggested that socialism might come about peacefully in a small country sharing a common border with a socialist country. Finland shares an 800-mile border with the former Soviet Union, and whether Lenin had Finland in mind is not known. After independence, the "Whites," in Finland, saw themselves as defenders of Finnish sovereignty, while looking to Germany for political and military support. The "Reds," who had the support of the Finnish workers' associations, the Social Democratic Party and the landless proletariat, were also motivated by the shift in the success of the Russian Soviets.
Although there were fundamental differences in both the history and the content of the Finnish workers' movement and its Soviet (Bolshevik) counterpart, civil war erupted in Finland as well, a war which per capita became one of the bloodiest domestic conflicts in all of Europe. After the White victory in the civil war, Finland continued to function as a parliamentary democracy. The Social Democrats retained their influence throughout the 1920s. The 1930s, however, was characterized by a slide towards political reaction and extremist politics on the right which added to deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union by the end of the decade. As Hitler became a recognized and immediate threat to the Soviet Union, Soviet demands on the Finnish government for a land swap to guarantee the security of Leningrad resulted in an early war, known in Finland as the Winter War. After a short armistice, Finland's alliances with Nazi Germany forced it to continue the war with the Soviet Union until total defeat and withdrawal from those alliances came about in 1944. After World War II Finland embarked on a new beginning. Indicative of the new political climate in Finland was the fact that in seven out of nine post-World War II national elections, the Finnish Communist Party received more than 20 percent of the popular vote, and the Social Democratic Party was by far the most popular political party, followed by the agrarian based Center. The postwar turn to the left can be explained as an expression of sentiments crushed during the civil war and a reaction to the extreme political policies of the 1930s. It is only after the 1970s that the left's support slowly began to abate and strong feelings of identification with one particular party or the other began to subside.
When comparing Finland to North America, history has shown that Finland, like most European countries, is geographically compelled to exist alongside its neighbors, and experiences its internal conflicts as reflections of even greater conflicts and divisions throughout the rest of Europe. Americans, on the other hand, have a commitment to tradition and place which could only be characterized as intermittent, a result of geographical and social mobility which developed from the allure of the frontier. Also, in contrast to Americans, who can switch between Republicans and Democrats from election to election, almost at will, Finns more readily identify with and adhere to the political platform of a particular party. Strict adherence to party politics has meant that political public discourse in Finland is characterized by more formal public debates between representatives of established parliamentary political factions, and not photo opportunities and interviews with individual political leaders, as in the United States.
It is within these precarious parameters, drawn by history, that the Finnish broadcasting corporation, YLE, with ninety percent of its shares government owned, was established as a broadcasting monopoly in 1927. YLE was founded, therefore, during a relatively peaceful interval after the tumultuous years of the bloody civil war.
During the modern era, after the Second World War, when the rest of Europe and America fell into the throes of cold war and confrontation, Finland played an exceptional role in Europe. Out of dire necessity, to accommodate both east and west, a foreign policy aimed specifically at peaceful coexistence was devised. Finnish neutrality allowed good foreign relations while trade with the planned economies of Comecon permitted Finland's economy to become less susceptible to market fluctuations in the west.
From 1945 until the 1990s, a period in which the Soviet Union bought up nearly a quarter of Finland's manufactured goods in exchange for Soviet oil and other raw materials, cultural contacts between Finns and Soviets, including nearby Estonia, remained weak. Finns, however, were "treated" to a diverse window on the world every evening on their television sets-from East German children's programs to prime-time American TV, all with subtitles and without dubbing. Finns compensated for their political and geographical isolation, brought about by the realities of postwar Europe, and developed their understanding of the world around them with the help of their television sets.
Public information distribution in Finland today
Finland, like other small European countries, is forced to invest a larger proportion of its educational resources in foreign-language teaching. Ten years of foreign language instruction is compulsory for those who attend Finnish schools. The vast majority of the adult Finnish population today has had at least ten years of English in school, which explains the level of foreign-language competency, which is a level similar to that in mot other Scandinavian countries. Television broadcasts have also contributed a broad knowledge of American popular culture and foreign television broadcasts are never dubbed into Finnish, with the result that Finns, in contrast to Americans and other Europeans, have more access to foreign languages, including English, as they are actually spoken.
According to a recent study, Finland's population reads considerably more daily newspapers and receives more public information via the written word than other nationalities. Education in Finland, as in other European countries, is considered a right and not a privilege, a result of Finland's historical striving for independence and a national language and culture. People who are highly educated, in the professions, including academics and journalists, for example, gain considerable respect.
Commercial publications abound, but other publications, such as those sponsored by farming co-operatives, the state church and independent churches, retailing co-operatives, trade unions and political parties, have also been abundant in Finland and have been an integral part of Finnish public discourse since long before independence. The broad contours of public discourse in Finland are still delineated by the written language. Although television news has of late become more commercialized, the leading competitors for the marketing of news, in contrast to the United States, are not independently owned television stations and commercial national networks. Instead, newspapers and radio broadcasters, some of which are now independent and commercial, are in the process of developing this new market. Television news in Finland, in particular that which is broadcast over the state-owned YLE, still plays a smaller role in the dissemination of public information than newspapers.
Advertising, in all its forms, is certainly quite visible in Finnish society. Still, the importance of the image remains a factor which is less significant in the distribution of public information. With a population of five million, Finnish readers are still able to support 27 daily newspapers. However, party, trade union, church and other associative publications are no longer as prevalent as they were only a decade ago, while most newspapers remain privately owned and commercially operated. In 1989, approximately 75 percent of newspaper income in Finland was derived directly from advertising.
Every year, on average, eighteen new book titles appear in Finnish bookstores for every 10,000 persons living in Finland. This number places Finland with Switzerland and Denmark among the best-read nations in Europe. In 1976 the average Finnish citizen spent 105 minutes out of every day watching television and almost 50 minutes reading. A third of that time was spent reading books and two-thirds newspapers. Three-fourths of all Finns over the age of 15 read at least two books a year, and in 1987, the amount of time spent watching television increased in Finland to 111 minutes a day, with little change in reading habits.
A late 1994 survey, conducted by Suomen Gallup-Media OY, showed that 12-69 year-old Finns listened to their radios for an average of three hours each day. However, the study points out, most people do not listen intensively for more than one hour each day. Finns spent a little over two hours each day watching television. Still, Finns spent nearly 50 minutes each day reading newspapers, and nearly 30 minutes a day reading books. With television and radio occupying the attention of Finnish audiences for a little over three hours each day, and newspapers and books for one hour and 20 minutes, it would seem that the electronic media do demand more time from Finns than the written word. However, public discourse in Finland, that which concerns public affairs and other newsworthy events, is still dominated by a form of the Finnish language which approximates the written word, similar to that used in a newspaper. Finnish, in its written form, still carries the most influence and credibility with Finnish audiences, even on radio and television. Written Finnish still prevails as an acceptable style of discourse for the exchange of news and other public affairs programs. How long this style will prevail, however, is a matter for conjecture, especially when one considers that the popularity of commercial radio and television news in Finland continues to increase, and more commercial radio stations are adopting the commercial style of discourse for their news broadcasts, a trend emulated to a lesser extent by commercial television news.
Concerning radio and television broadcasting in this context, broadcasting is still considered a public institution in Finland, and television is responsible to the Ministry of Transport and the Finnish parliament, the Eduskunta. In keeping with the tradition of public broadcasting in Europe, the ministry distributes broadcast channels in such a way that specialized tastes and needs will be met. Cultural requirements of the Finnish population, including news presented in at least three different "domestic" languages (Finnish, Swedish and Saame), serious music, popular music and current affairs are all, to a certain degree, met through public service broadcasting.
During the past decade this system, with all of its accomplishments and deficiencies, has been undergoing a period of change. The most profound change in Finnish broadcasting took place in the middle 1980s. Compelled by the private sector of the Finnish economy to deregulate and thus fulfill advertising needs for a more market-oriented broadcasting system, the Finnish government has allowed local radio stations to be set up and operated by private individuals. The vast majority of these new radio stations are today commercial enterprises, often operated by other media corporations, appropriately serving to quench the increasing thirst of sponsors for more advertising outlets.
At present, YLE still operates two national television channels (in addition to the
Swedish channel), with the third channel now under the control of the commercially
oriented Mainos-TV, the first commercial broadcaster in Scandinavia. A major change
in the law which concerns YLE, advertising and its broadcasting monopoly is also pending.
The dominance of public service broadcasting in Finland is being increasingly questioned.
Not until the introduction of cable, however, did the diverse possibilities of
multi-channel television confront YLE with its own demise. Although approximately fifty
percent of Finnish homes are today wired for cable television, multi-channel foreign
broadcasts have been available to cable subscribers and satellite dish owners in Finland
for a number of years.
Changes in Finnish television broadcasting
As church, trade union and other organizational publications become less important to the average Finn as a source of public information, which was a trend in the United States in the early part of this century, 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.
At first glance, with Finnish television channels YLE 1 and YLE 2 still broadcasting in the same manner, it would seem that little has really changed in Finnish public information distribution and reception. However, major changes in Finnish broadcasting are underway. Up until the early 1980s there were only two channels available to Finnish television viewers-and no foreign channels, except for Swedish television, which could only be seen along the west coast and in the archipelago with a good antenna or cable connection. Soviet television was only available in the far eastern peripheries of Northern Karelia. Estonian television did transmit a weak signal across the Finnish Gulf, but SECAM was established as the standard in the former Soviet Union, making it difficult for all but a few of the earliest cable-TV subscribers in Helsinki to receive it. Since there were no home videocassette recorders in the early days of Finnish television broadcasting, Finns were forced, whether they liked it or not, to watch one of the two Finnish television channels.
The prevailing broadcasting policy in Finland was to provide something for everyone. On a typical weekday, children's programming or repeated programming would appear on Finnish TV screens in the early afternoons. Viewers, if there were any, were only treated to hour after hour of YLE's test pattern, with YLE's radio program provided for sound-certainly not the most efficient method for transmitting the state's radio programs. Actual television programming did not begin until almost 6 PM with entertainment, news commentary and YLE's first news program of the day at 6:15 PM, which included only 15 minutes of news, weather and sports.
Mondays and Tuesdays were (and still are) set aside for Swedish-speaking audiences. Usually, this means an admixture of news, documentary and entertainment in Swedish (with Finnish subtitles) and Finnish or foreign programming (with Swedish subtitles). Although this solution is the only one imaginable under such circumstances, neither Swedish-speaking nor Finnish-speaking Finns have ever been entirely satisfied with it.
In addition to the programs transmitted by state-operated YLE, Finland's commercial broadcaster, Mainos-TV, has made its own contract with YLE to provide commercial programs on one of the two channels nightly. Mainos-TV, on a typical weekday evening, would begin showing its programs after the first short newscast with light entertainment for children, progressing on to more family-oriented entertainment, mostly American sit-coms, before the big event of the evening, namely, YLE's news at 9:15 PM.
YLE's evening news report served (and still, too a limited extent, today) as the linchpin for Finnish TV program scheduling every evening. YLE-Uutiset (YLE News) has consistently set the rhythm in most Finnish households, with anticipation among family members, awaiting YLE's news broadcast. Children knew to expect to go to bed at news time, and adults knew that they could relax and watch some "serious" film or documentary program. The 9:15 P.M. news (later moved to 8:30 P.M.), incidentally, was transmitted simultaneously over both of the only existing television channels, meaning that all television viewers in Finland watched the YLE evening news, whether they meant to go to bed at 9:35, after the weather report, or stay up late until signoff (usually to the tune of some popular recording and a picture of a late evening landscape), which usually occurred before 11 PM.
Each broadcast evening had programming which followed an expected formula, meaning that
the Finnish family's routine revolved around the evening news. Finnish television,
therefore, was a family convention, and even more: It was a meeting shared by every family
in the country, around the television set, until bedtime.
Information, education and entertainment
A typical Finnish television viewing evening in the 1970s might have included one
or several of the following programs:
A children's program in Swedish.
Levyraati, "Tips for Records"-One of Finland's oldest and most popular television music game programs.
Kivikasvot, "Stone Faces"-A musical program similar to The Lawrence Welk Show in the United States.
A "television-orchestra" playing "romantic dance music."
Jamsession, "Jam Session"-in Swedish with improvised jazz (and Finnish subtitles).
Rock music from England with dancing.
Spanish guitar solos (from Spain with subtitles).
A Swedish-language music and dancing (with Finnish subtitles).
A German music program from Hamburg with Finnish or Swedish subtitles (depending on whether the program was produced for the Finnish or Swedish-speaking audiences).
Spede. Comedy with Finland's leading television comedian.
A French television film series, subtitled in Finnish.
A Finnish television series (without subtitles).
A Finnish television play produced by YLE.
A television play from the BBC (with subtitles).
A popular American prime-time television adventure series or sit-com (such as Ben Casey, Peyton Place, Wagon Train, The Donna Reed Show, The Virginian, or Doctor Kildare) all in English with Finnish subtitles-and Finnish commercials if shown on Mainos TV.
(Continue to part 2 of Chapter 1)
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Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.