"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.
The Finnish Perspective (cont.)
YLE UUTISET (Yleisradio Evening
The following programs would usually appear after the 9:15 PM (later, 8:30 PM) news
report and would most likely be shown by YLE, not the commercial Mainos-TV, which shared
the same two channels. The late-night content changed from entertainment to education:
A documentary about concentration camps in Poland.
A documentary about lasers.
A documentary about artists in India.
The week in review with news commentary.
Swedish-language news and news commentary.
Me kysymme, "We are asking"-A roundtable talk with members of the Finnish parliament, with questions from the studio audience.
KOM-Teatteri, "Com(munist) Theater" -- A theater evening, from Helsinki, with Finland's leading left-wing theater group.
A Shakespearean play, produced in England, with Finnish subtitles.
A 15-year-old American movie starring Mickey Rooney. Finnish broadcasting's formula today
According to research done by Hellman and Sauri in
the latter part of the 1980s, "prime time" in Finland still revolved around the
evening news slot at 8.30 PM, seven nights a week. As can be seen by this chart:
Percent of Finnish audience viewing television on a typical week night 1970-1980.
Television viewing begins in the late afternoon with the number of viewers continuing to increase until news time, then falling off before midnight. This trend was set years earlier by YLE and continues today, although the expansion of Finnish commercial television, in the form of the third channel which is now all commercial, video and foreign competition on cable will eventually cause many to question this formula.
In their study of Finnish television broadcasting in the 1980s, Hellman and Sauri also found that both YLE and Mainos-TV were cooperating more in scheduling their programs. Despite competition from cable channels and video, evening prime-time broadcasts have, in fact, changed little. More competition between YLE and Mainos-TV, in the form of adding more entertainment through the purchase of cheaper foreign imports, had not materialized. On the contrary, there was a clear trend towards more "uniformity" in order to "safeguard common interests" and better "cope" with foreign competition. Whether this observation would still hold true today is questionable. The third channel now competes quite effectively, producing its own news reports, and placing them strategically in the 7:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M time slots. This, in effect, changes the Finnish prime-time formula by extending it beyond the 9 o'clock peak of previous years (see chart below). It also tends to divert audience attention away from the traditional 8:30 P.M. news slot, diversifying the established viewing expectations and making audiences more fluid. Younger viewers, therefore, are more inclined to watch the news at 7 and 10 PM, while older people remain with "their" 8:30 YLE News.
The evening news
YLE-Uutiset (YLE's Evening News) appears every night at 8:30 PM. The
following telecast, reviewed below, was intentionally delayed by approximately five
minutes so that YLE couldprepare its report about a
breaking story. The story has to do with Austria's voter referendum on joining the
European Union (EU). Such delays, usually caused by breaking news and other technical
circumstances, are not uncommon on YLE, which has no commercial advertising to sell and no
contracted scheduling obligations to sponsors. Finnish audiences, if compared to American
audiences, are considerably more understanding of delays of this sort.
This news report illustrates the flexibility of non-commercial television and the audiences who watch it. For those who are familiar with the fast-paced American commercial style, YLE's news must seem at times slow and unprofessional, with audiences insipidly waiting for their news. It is, however, important to keep in mind that YLE's style is the style which still is most familiar to Finns and most appreciated by them as "news." Most importantly, it is the style which most people in Finland trust.
While they wait, for approximately five minutes, audiences are given YLE's evening schedule to peruse (conveniently, the scheduled time of the upcoming news report is periodicallychanged on screen from minute to minute to reflect the new broadcast schedule of the evening, and accommodate for the delay). For sound, a recording of a singing bird is played until the Austrian story is made ready for presentation.
LIND: Hyvää iltaa ja heti aluksi pahoittelut siitä, että olemme myöhässä. Saimme raporttimme Itävallasta valmiiksi vasta nyt.
Translation: "Good Evening-and right away we would like to apologize for being
late. We have just finished preparing our report from Austria."
Commentary: The broadcast begins with the familiar YLE
Uutiset logo and a very short musical fanfare. Arvi Lind, Finland's best known
television news anchor, and according to a recent poll, the "most trusted man in
Finland," gives a brusque apology (with no welcoming smile) for the delay. Lind looks
the part of an authority, with his polite but solid mannerisms, appropriate for
representing the official voice of the Finnish state broadcasting company, he also
transmits a feeling of trust and familiarity. Lind has been reading the YLE news for over
twenty years and is also responsible for writing his own reports. Lind has considerable
status in Finland, and not just as a trusted news anchor. He is also a member of the board
at the Finnish Language Research Center (Kotimaisten kielten tutkimuskeskus), and
one of the editors of the center's publication, Kielikello, whose task is to
resolve issues which arise concerning the proper use of the Finnish language (päättää
kielenkäyttöa koskevista periaatteellisista tai yleisluonteisista suosituksista). If
Lind sat at his desk, before the cameras, joking and laughing with his colleagues, at the
beginning and end of each newscast, as some American news anchors do, it would cause some
positive but mostly negative reactions among Finnish television audiences. Instead, Lind
considers his task to be that of a neutral reporter. "In my opinion," says Lind,
"the news anchor should not show his emotions during the broadcast, no matter what
the matter is."
LIND: Itävaltalaiset ovat äänestäneet selkeästi maan EU-jäsenyyden puolesta. Kun lähes kaikki äänet on laskettu, KYLLÄ-äänten osuus on kuusikymmentäkuusi ja puoli prosenttia. Äänestysvilkkaus kohosi yli kahdeksaankymmeneen prosenttiin. Itävalta äänesti hakijamaista ensimmäisenä EU sopimuksesta.
Translation: "The Austrians have clearly voted in favor of EU membership. With
nearly all the votes counted, the YES votes represent 60.5 per cent of the total. Voter
interest rose to 80 per cent. Austria was the first applicant to vote on the EU
Commentary: The plain wall behind the anchor and noticeable lack of other stage props, such as television monitors or other people, as well as the lack of other sounds, focuses our attention on the voice and the eyes of the lone anchor, Arvi Lind. Lind is dressed impeccably, for the summer, in a light, double-breasted suit, and his glasses, presumably for reading the text, remind one of the knowledgeable and helpful civil servant, especially as he looks rigidly into the camera. On the blank wall behind appears, superimposed over Lind's right shoulder, a schematic picture of the letters EU (for European Union) and the word Itävalta, meaning Austria, with the circle of yellow stars on a blue background, the flag of the European Union.
Lind writes and formats his texts himself, several pages of which can be seen lying on top of his desk, under his hands, with his index finger pointing to the place while he reads (he is, nonetheless, looking straight into the camera and most certainly reading from a teleprompter). The camera shot is not a close-up, as is used on CNN, but includes Lind from the top of his head down to his waist, making his facial expressions and other features difficult to distinquish behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
Lind's written text is presented in a style of Finnish which would be suitable for a serious article in a newspaper, a book or a news magazine. Kirjoitettu yleiskieli, a spoken form of kirjakieli, literally "the written language," is used predominantly by Lind and there are no intentional attempts to make the news sound "punchier," or to give the audience a feeling of intimacy and familiarity with the anchor, nor is there a "teaser" at the beginning and certainly not much of a reward (a "kicker") at the end of the broadcast (in contrast to Finland's rivaling commercial channel's news at ten). The stories, in general, tend to be somewhat longer and quite thorough in detail. Several news stories in a row may actually vary little in content until at the end when topics related to the arts are presented. During the summer months, the news stories reported on YLE may, as with Lind's suit of clothes, become more colorful allowing topics of a more buoyant nature (such as, in this case, the "Kummeli" story) to be shown to audiences spending their leisure hours (as is the custom in Finland) in their summer cabins.
After Lind introduces the topic, we hear the voice of the
first reporter (Brandt), over a filmed report from Vienna about the events leading up to
the Austrian referendum.
BRANDT: Itävallan EU-kannattajilla on tänään syytä juhliin. Hallituksen edustajat ovat jo ilmaisseet tyytyväisyytensä; ajoihan Itävallan konservatiivien ja sosiaalidemokraattien muodostama hallitus Unionin jäsenyyttä kaikin keinoin. Hallitus sai nyt kaipaamansa selvän jaan.
Translation: "Austrian EU supporters have a reason to celebrate today. Government
representatives have already shown their satisfaction. The Austrian government, made up of
conservatives and social democrats, pushed for membership at all costs. The government now
has its much desired YES vote."
Commentary: Brandt begins her report as a voice-over, but
it is voiced over a German-language schematic drawing of Austria, showing voting in
various precincts. The Austrian Chancellor, Franz Vranitzky, is then shown giving his
comments in German with Finnish subtitles. Finnish audiences are accustomed to graphs,
statistics, and other scientific data on their screens. Polls, on the other hand, are not
as common, although they are increasing in acceptance.
Vranitzky [Interview with an the Austrian Prime Minister (in German with Finnish
subtitles...translation not included).]
BRANDT: Eurohuuma suorastaan tympäisi itävaltalaisia, mutta ei estänyt heitä antamasta ylivoimaista äänten enemmistöä Unionin puolesta. Jäsenyyttä vastustava populistinen Vapauspuolue järjesti näyttäviä viimehetken tilaisuuksia, mutta sen ylilyönnit eivät loppujen lopuksi vedonneet itävaltalaisten enemmistöön. Äänestäjät olivat liikkeellä aamuvarhaisesta ja osa vaalihuoneistoista suljettiinkin jo aamupäivällä. Äänestysinto takasi sen, että jäsenyyden kannattajat saivat murskavoiton - paljon selvemmän kuin viime aikojen mielipidetiedustelut uskalsivat luvata. Tulos näytti selvältä heti, kun ensimmäiset tulokset päivän mittaan saapuivat. Kahden kolmasosan voitosta puhuttiin jo varhain iltapäivällä. Myös vaalipaikkojen luota oli selvästi helpompi löytää niitä, jotka äänestivät EU:n puolesta.
Translation: "European fever has simply disgusted the Austrians, but it hasn't
kept them from giving their overwhelming majority vote for the Union. The populistic
Freedom Party, which is against membership, organized events at the last minute, but its
exaggerations did not appeal to the majority of Austrians after all. Voters were on the
move from the early morning and a portion of the polls closed already in the morning.
Voter enthusiasm emphasized that membership supporters would get a landslide win. The
result became clear immediately when the first results of the day arrived. There was talk
of a two-thirds majority already early in the day. It was also clearly easier to find
those who voted for the EU in the vicinity of the voting places."
Commentary: Brant gives her commentary again as a
voice-over, showing Vienna street scenes, election posters and polling places. Her style
of reporting, although fast and clipped, uses vocabulary which is only somewhat less
formal than the language used by Lind. Lind would probably not choose to use such words as
eurohuuma, "euro fever," or such a construction as, ...niitä, jotka
äänestivät EU:n puolesta, "those who voted for the EU," because of its
more conversational qualities. Brant's style, nevertheless, cannot be defined as
[Interview with an Austrian voter (in German with Finnish subtitles...translation
Commentary: Interviews with foreigners are invariably in
their own languages, since very few foreigners speak Finnish, and Finns expect to hear the
original language spoken, with subtitles in Finnish provided at the bottom of the screen.
Brandt's report ends with a relaxed close up of the
reporter (still not smiling) sitting in a Viennese cafe, in front of a cup of coffee.
There was no wrap-up in the end, and a rather abrupt cut back to the anchor.
LIND: EU:n päämajassa Brysselissä Itävallan kansanäänestyksen tulosta on jo ehditty kiitellä. EU:ssa tuloksen uskotaan lisäävän KYLLÄ-äänten kannatusta Suomen ja muiden pohjoismaiden EU-äänestyksissä.
Translation: "In EU headquarters in Brussels, the results of Austria's referendum
are already delightedly received Within the EU, the result is believed to increase support
for the YES vote in Finland and other Scandinavian referendums."
Commentary: Lind is still sitting in front of the same
wall, with the same (EU - Itävalta) slide over his left shoulder.
RISKI: Itävallan nyt jo selvältä näyttämä [sic] ylivoimainen kahden kolmasosan KYLLÄ-tulos vaikuttaa myös Suomen ja muiden pohjoismaiden kansanäänestyksissä KYLLÄ-äänten puolesta....
... Europarlamentin sosialistien odotetaan lisäävän ääniään
europarlamentissa, mutta enemmän ja eniten täällä jännitetään sitä, miten eri
hallitukset meneh... öh... menestyvät. Eurovaaleista odotetaan suuntaviittoja muun
muassa siihen, miten Saksan liittokansleri Kohl ...
Translation: "Austria's clearly overwhelming two-thirds yes-vote will also
influence Finnish and other Scandinavian referendums in favor of a yes-vote."
"Socialists in the European Parliament expect to increase their votes, but above
everything else the tension here surrounds the question of how the different governments
will lose-uh-succeed. Indications are expected from the European elections in such places
as Germany, where German Chancellor Helmut Kohl... "
Commentary: Riski, YLE's journalist in Brussels, reads his
entire report over the telephone. His report is in the written form of the language, and
he makes little attempt to appear to be "telling" his the news. In fact, it is
rather too obvious that he is reading it from a prepared report because he makes some
crucial mistakes in his reading. From the background noise one gets the impression that he
is actually leafing through pages of paper. Audiences are only shown a picture of Brussels
and a smaller picture of Riski superimposed at the bottom (with his name). Later, his
voice is played over shots of the interior of the European Parliament.
The cut back to the anchor was rather abrupt.
LIND: Suomen kansanäänestys on siis vasta syksyllä, mutta jo alkava viikko on
hyvin ratkaiseva maamme EU-jäsenyydelle ja pääministeri Aholle. Hallituksen EUratkaisu
on esillä eduskunnassa ja Keskustan puoluekokouksessa. Kummassakin odotetaan
äänestyspäätöksiä. Politiikan toimittajamme arvioikin, että alkava viikko...
Translation: "The Finnish referendum will not take place until autumn, but already
the coming week will be crucial to our country's EU membership and Prime Minister
Government's EU solution is before the Eduskunta (Parliament) and in the party
caucus of the Center Party. From both a voting decision is expected. Our political
correspondent considers the coming week..."
Commentary: Lind continues reading, tirelessly on into his
next story, with no fear of losing his audience. The story is about the upcoming
discussion in the Finnish parliament-about EU membership for Finland and the various
problems, such as agriculture, which will be considered. The main part of the news report,
therefore, is concerned with government and political matters, with interview after
interview, with various Finnish and foreign government officials and other politically
knowledgeable people. The news report becomes quite detailed with pictures of a desk
calendar, leafing through the dates, circled with a pen, on which important parliamentary
debates about EU membership are scheduled to take place.
There are, of course, other stories reported in this
edition of the YLE evening news. There is, for example, a report about the Finnish Green
Party and its weekend conference. The Greens voted not to support, nor to reject, EU
membership for Finland. (The report is presented as a voice-over, with Lind reading the
Another story reports on the Swedish Peoples' Party's
conference in Turku, in which its party chairman, Ole Norrback, was re-elected.
(Returning to a medium shot of the anchor), Lind looks
into the camera to inform the audience that both the Swedish Peoples' Party and the Green
Party are demanding that Gays be given the right to a legal marriage in Finland and be
entitled to enjoy social security benefits.
The next story concerns the Finnish Veterans' Association, which enjoyed a day of celebration (shots of veterans meeting and carrying flags) is followed by a short report on Haiti, which declares a state of emergency (including voice-over with archive shots of Haiti's president and Haitian refugees).
An army Second lieutenant in Sweden is reported to have
murdered seven innocent people-this story is read rather quickly as a voice-over by Lind
(with shots of the peaceful suburb in Sweden where the murder took place).
Finally, YLE's last news story is somewhat exceptional in
that "soft" news rarely gets reported, except during the summer months. The
story has to do with the outdoor stage appearance of the popular television comedy and
musical group, Kummeli. (Lind introduces the story with just a trace of a smile.)
The rather short (by American standards) weather report,
which follows, begins with a shot of ducks on a pond and the meteorologist, Kari Ahti,
standing in front of a Scandinavian weather map.
At the end of the report, Lind informs us of a special
news report about the Austrian referendum which will be shown later in the evening.
Immediately, without a break, following the news, is a
rather long sports report, because of the weekend, followed by A-Studio, with a
more comprehensive report on the Austrian referendum.
In this particular news report, YLE gave audiences
approximately an hour of news, weather, sports and much detailed reporting, especially
with the addition of A-Studio after the news. There was only one story about a
crime (the story from Sweden). Finns, in fact, generally do not see, nor expect to see,
crime stories on television, nor are there stories about road accidents (except at the
beginning of winter). Catastrophes, of course, do get mentioned (a plane crash or an
earthquake). Major catastrophes which concern Finns directly get reported in considerable
detail. Crimes and accidents are considered suitable for newspapers.
The reporter from Brussels (quoted above) who reads his
copy directly into the telephone is a good example of YLE journalists who are very
qualified as journalists, but not as television news entertainers or
"personalities," as seen on commercial television. YLE's entire news report,
including the weather report, sports and A-Studio, lasted an entire, uninterrupted
hour, (an hour of programming without commercials on American commercial television is 44
minutes), and it was without commercial interruption. As a distributor of public
information, one requiring a certain level of concentration from audiences, YLE and its
reporters are very efficient, but not entertaining.
Changes in the Finnish formula for news?
There have been attempts, and quite recently, to change YLE's format. The structural changes in Finnish television broadcasting which were set into motion at the beginning of the 1980s initiated the overall changes presently underway in Finnish viewing habits. YLE, in contrast to just a few years ago, is now competing with other commercial media which are rapidly expanding their newly created market's share. With three Finnish channels and one Swedish channel available to most households without cable, and between 12 and 25 channels, including cable-TV's own PTV, with cable, YLE's programming and the traditional culture surrounding the television set in Finland will inevitably weaken, although, as yet, it has not changed remarkably. Half of all Finnish households, who now have cable, can indeed watch Tom Brokaw's NBC Nightly News, or Germany's RTL, Spain's TVE, Italy's RAIUNO, Moscow Channel 1 (all commercial channels) or French and Swedish public service TV, as well as the BBC's WSTV.
The average daily number of programming hours on Finnish television, including all of
the available channels, increased from nine hours a day in 1970 to over fourteen in 1985
(not including the cable channel, PTV and the third channel, founded in 1986). Yet Finns
still prefer Finnish-language broadcasts, and most Finns still consider the YLE evening
news as the most qualified and most credible producer of news. Although, cable, videos and
commercial television are succeeding in drawing viewers away from YLE, research has shown
that YLE continues to show documentaries, theater and other "educational"
programming, and it is now done more in alignment with the needs of the commercial
channel. YLE's evening news, no longer appearing on all available channels in Finland,
still marks the boundary, as it did decades earlier, in program scheduling and in
determining what Finns consider implicitly to be "news."
CNN and new formulas for television news in Europe
CNN's influence in the new European Union will be significant. The real challenge to public service broadcasting in Europe, from a marketing perspective, will be found in CNN's use of the traditional American commercial style of discourse. It has proven itself as an extremely efficient generator of revenues in American markets and its success and expertise is bound to influence European broadcasters as well.
The 24-hour television news broadcasting format is a commodity which has now been in existence for only a little over a decade in the United States, where satellite broadcasting and cable have come to dominate program distribution. While CNN advertises itself as a 24-hour global news-gathering network with multi-national contacts, its broadcast discourse style is largely taken from the American model and uses the standard commercial formulas which were developed over decades of commercial broadcasting activity.
In the latter part of the 1980s, CNN introduced, what seems to be, a consequential product to European markets. The idea of an all-news television channel was virtually invented by CNN for European audiences when the Atlanta network's satellite broadcasts first became available in hotels and on cable systems across the Atlantic. Although CNN has been generating non-stop news broadcasts since June of 1980, it was the instantaneous reporting from the war in the Persian Gulf which propelled CNN into the spotlight and gave the all-news channel more influence.
According to Hank Whittemore, author of CNN: The Inside Story, in the early
days, just after Cable News Network began broadcasting,
To get around unions in the bureaus, CNN had been using subcontractors who hired people
to run cameras and crews-such as Mobile Video, run by Sheldon Levy, who had been CNN's
first subcontractor in Washington, D.C. If those employees voted for a union, then CNN
could simply cancel its contract (which was what happened in the case of Mobile Video) and
go to another outfit.
As far as news-reporting style goes, the evidence
shows that CNN is continuing Sheldon Levy's legacy. Today, Levy is well known in the
industry for his early contributions to news reporting, in particular, the work done by
his New York based company, Action Movie News, which sold footage, mostly about crime,
fires and accidents, to the networks' New York affiliates in the early 1970s. Levy, an
employee at the New York City Fire Department, had the idea of using a portable video
taperecorder to shoot fires, and then sell the videotape cassettes to the television
stations in the New York area. Levy began selling tape to CBS in November of 1973, but
soon, word of what he was doing spread "from station to station." Fires were
always, according to Levy, the "biggest sellers," because they are
"dramatic." Levy and his employees would listen in to police and fire radio
bands and respond to as many as possible, because, in Levy's own words, "The most
minor fire or the most insignificant shooting may develop into a big story the next
day." Levy also describes a new format for television news:
There was a concept in New York, pushed when we first started Eyewitness News:
It was the feeling that the reporter was on the scene when the action was actually going
on. But it wasn't that way. If it was a fire story they were covering, the reporter would
usually stand in front of the burned-out building the next day and say, "Here, the
night before, was this major fire leaving 40 people or 50 people homeless." Our
business-our service-enabled this reporter to now say, "Here, this is what happened
last night. I'm standing here now in front of this building, but here are the scenes of
what actually happened. Here are the people being rescued, here are the people injured.
Here is the building actually burning." And before we came into the picture, there
was never any way of doing that. In homicide stories, crime stories, very often the
reporter would stand in the spot and say, "Here, last night, two men were gunned
down." Well, now they will have the footage of those two men lying there. And, I
think it has changed the way that news stories are covered in New York.
CNN has taken Levy's lead and applied it to reporting news stories from around the world. According to Whittemore, Ted Kavanau, former news director at Channel 5 in New York and later head of CNN's Washington team, was the inventor of Headline News, for which he sent crews around the country and even to "Nicaraguan jungles" and "Grenada beaches to make reports." "Most stories," Whittemore writes, "were broken down into as many as thirty segments of three to four minutes apiece."
Today CNN garners prestige from the notoriety it received during its coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The Atlanta-based network has transformed itself into a much sought-after commercial model, one which is more and more imitated by Europe's commercial broadcasters, making the news network from the American South a formidable competitor for the older, more established public broadcasting monopolies on the European continent.
If this trend continues we may witness by the turn of the century, the transmission of
CNN's style throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Competition in world markets will
be dealt with in the same way that CNN has dealt with competition at home in the United
States: With a tried-and-true formula and an inherently populistic philosophy, sometimes
to the extreme, CNN will irreverently appear to be snubbing its nose at the European
"big guys" and the "ivory tower" critics, but always claiming to
represent "the common man."
Even if most Finns and most Europeans never become regular viewers of the American station, CNN's influence will be significant because 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 competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment.
Join a discussion on CNN, Television, Broadcasting and New Media at CNNCritical Discussions
Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.