The Finnish audience
This study of audience responses to CNN and the American commercial discourse style was initiated in September of 1992 in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Vaasa, in northwestern Finland. The actual soliciting of information and participant interviews were primarily carried out at the University of Turku in southern Finland. The study was instrumental in providing a basis for understanding local audience reception and perception of the way American commercial broadcasters present world events in light of the prevailing broadcast traditions in Finland. Responses were systematically recorded to determine if any gaps (lacunae) in understanding and comprehension of meaning occur. Information was elicited by means of a series of intensive interviews in which each participant was queried individually and asked to comment on every aspect of the broadcast. Each interview lasted from 10 to 20 minutes. The object, however, was not only to elicit individual replies from participants, but to view the news broadcasts from CNN together, as a group, allowing the individual group members to choose the agenda and relate their reactions to the CNN news report during the interview. The interviews were not guided, while prompting for specific details was given, the general agenda for each interview was set by the interviewees.
In this study, the use of a Finnish audience provides a useful opportunity to discuss cross-cultural differences because it is an audience which has had limited exposure to American commercial news and one which has also traditionally relied on public-service broadcasting. Further, it is most familiar with this style of discourse for distributing public information.
Eighty students from the faculties of the Social Sciences and Humanities were asked to
participate in the first series of viewings of the CNN broadcast. Interviews were carried
out during the subsequent four days after initial viewing. Participants in this study were
concurrently attending an obligatory English oral skills course which facilitated the use
of longer interviews in English as a component of foreign-language studies. Later, other
students in later semesters reviewed the responses made in the initial study and were
asked to act as a source of control, checking for accuracy of my notes and commenting on
the general validity of the statements which were made by the earlier participants.
Participants in the initial viewing were encouraged to draw independent conclusions
about CNN and its motives for reporting the news, as well as its credibility. They were
requested to discuss the news programs with others in the group during the class meeting
only and to view the reports as they would at home in their living rooms. These interviews
had few constraints, other than the ability of the students to offer information.
The participants were attending their second and third years of Finnish university as full-time students, which means that their ages ranged from 20 to 25 years. Four had recently spent longer than one year in the United States and were familiar with American commercial television. Five others had been in the United States as high school exchange students.
Before viewing, the following instructions were given:
1. Closely compare CNN's Headline News to the Finnish television (YLE) network news. Pay particular attention to the differences between CNN's report and the evening (8:30 PM) news report (the most popular and influential news report in Finland). Disregard other news programs seen on television in Finland, on cable or otherwise. Be prepared to lead the discussion in telling me what you think are the most important differences between CNN and YLE. Be frank and sincere in giving your opinion concerning content and style.
2. Watch closely for contrasts in wardrobe, makeup, hairstyles, facial expressions and gestures, including body language and any other messages-kinesics and paralanguage-which you feel are being conveyed by CNN. Point out to me the differences between CNN and YLE. Does CNN have higher professional standards than YLE?
3. Pay close attention to CNN's use of music, lighting, camera and video editing. Compare CNN's "pace" and "rhythm" in its news reports to YLE. Tell me where the biggest differences are. Do you find CNN more entertaining?
4. Pay attention to the vocabulary and "tone of voice" used by CNN-is CNN partial to the American point of view? Point out examples which show that CNN is any more or less credible, or reliable as a news source, than YLE. What, in your opinion, makes CNN more/less credible?
5. Would you want to see YLE adopt CNN's style of reporting the news? Explain your reasons. Do you think other Finns would have a different opinion from your own? Explain.
This particular edition of CNN's Headline News, was received on Turku Cable Television on the morning of September 14, 1992. Headline News is broadcast several times a day on CNN International. It was chosen because its news content and style more closely reflect the news shown in the United States. In fact, Headline News is broadcast simultaneously to American audiences (which is not always the case with other programs on CNN International). No business, weather or other programming was chosen for analysis, although CNN offers an abundance of such programs.
CNN's HEADLINE NEWS
(As seen on Turku Cable Television, September 14th, 1992. Length of
broadcast: 5 minutes, 55 seconds).
Before Headline News begins, viewers are given an on-screen text announcing "Events around the world."
(See example 1 below for analysis.)
The first sequence begins after CNN's Headline News logo. The beginning is accompanied by marching music, which gives the half-hour news program a rhythmic, almost zealous agenda. Viewers then see a close up of the smiling anchor, Gordon Graham, sitting in front of a bank of monitors. Graham beams with congeniality and authority.
CNN Headline News. I'm Gordon Graham.
(See example 2 below for analysis.)
An aerial long shot of Kauai, in Hawaii, where Hurricane Iniki has just destroyed over
10,000 homes on the island with winds peaking at over 160 m.p.h.
Emergency shelter where people are being given aid, then to Kauai's airport and a shot of an air force transport plane bringing in supplies from the mainland. CU of supplies being unloaded.
GORDON GRAHAM: (in voice-over)
Three days after a hurricane slammed into their island, destroying homes and crops, residents of Kauai are putting their lives back together. Hurricane Iniki hit the island Friday with winds peaking at 160 m.p.h. It destroyed 10,000 homes. Seven thousand people are still in shelters. Aid began pouring in yesterday. While electricity and running water is still out, crews restored limited telephone service yesterday. Round-the-clock military airlifts are bringing in food and medicine. The island's 52,000 residents face a daunting re-building effort, but the U.S. government plans to help.
(See example 3 below for analysis.)
a close up of Patricia Saiki from the Business Administration on Kauai (standing in front of the Emergency Operation Center).
The President places great emphasis on streamlining our loan process. Where it took 30 to 60 days to get a home loan, we're going to be able to condense it to 7 days. And we're going to do it through the coordination of the IRS and the US treasury. This has total White House support, and we want to be there when people need us, and certainly to give the people of Kauai home loans as quickly as possible.
More destruction with a shot of badly damaged sailing boats and yachts.
The storm did an estimated billion dollars in damage on Kauai. Iniki mostly missed Oahu, but still did more than two billion dollars in damage there.
(See example 4 below for analysis.)
Lorie Hirose reports on the rebuilding efforts:
Road workers clearing trees away with shots of destroyed homes along the way.
The sound of chain saws replaced the sound of howling hurricane wind on the island of Kauai. Crews are working to clear trees from the highways and to repair downed telephone and power lines. Hurricane Iniki tore rooves (sic - BD) off of homes, giving clear view into living rooms and bedrooms. But survivors will tell you the storm gave them a different view of life.
In the next shot we are shown of a survivor standing in front of what is apparently the ruins of what used to be her home. The destruction is the proof of Iniki's force which was terrible only a few days earlier. (This survivor is "interviewed," but no questions are put to her on camera. We hear only the woman's voice, telling her own story. The camera moves in for an extra close up, a tight head shot showing the emotion in her face with the destruction in the background.
I thought we weren't going to make it, so I was in the hallway, under the bed -- the mattress -- and I was telling my Mom I love her, and I was sorry for everything I've done and now I realize that material things aren't anything and that the family that sticks together, that's what really counts.
(See example 5 below for analysis.)
A long shot from inside a reporter's moving vehicle -- then to a hotel where Don Johnson himself had weathered the storm.
Cutaway back to: Kauai airport with a close up of Steven Spielberg.
In the rural areas, the main crop, sugar cane, lay flattened across the fields. Actor Don Johnson weathered the storm in a hotel ballroom, and film director Steven Spielberg was also on the island during Iniki.
I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe the force that-well, we were just watching trees flyinto the sky and not come down. We were watching-not just palm trees, but-every other kind of tree fly away. It was extraordinary to look at and very tragic to -- you know, in light of the information that they were having fatalities.
(See example 6 below for analysis.)
More shots of destruction.
Latest reports say four people died in the hurricane and about a hundred were injured. National Guard troops are airlifting in food and supplies. And, while tourists prepare to leave Kauai, it is the residents who will face Iniki's damage in the months to come. And, with the resilience of the human spirit, those residents consider themselves lucky.
The next shot is of the second survivor. It is a tight head shot which calls attention to her big, round, flashing eyes.
We'll rebuild. I could handle the loss of the whole house compared to the loss of my child or my husband. So it's great!
I mean, we're alive, man!
It's just a lot of work."
(See example 7 below for analysis.)
"In Honolulu, Lorie Hirose for CNN."
[Chapter 6 continues...click here to continue transcript and read analysis]
Finnish Views of CNN Copyright © 1995 by Brett Dellinger
Order the book:
BRETT DELLINGER (1995). Finnish views of CNN television news: A critical cross-cultural analysis of the American commercial discourse style. Linguistics 6. (Väitöskirja). 337 s. 136 Finnish Marks.