"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 JŠnos PetŲfi.
Television News Frames
Finnish interpretations: "American propaganda"
The word "propaganda," when used in describing CNN in Finland, has come up on a number of occasions, but mostly in regards to the reporting of the Gulf War. Olli Kivinen, an editor of the leading Finnish daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has been critical of CNN's coverage of the Gulf War. Kivinen bases his observations, which were aired on CNN's "International Hour," on the measure of CNN's objectivity. Basically, his argument is that CNN and the United States government are in a conspiracy to distort the news and produce propaganda for the American point of view. The impression one gets from this pattern of criticism is that the United States government is seen as a virtual monolith, able to force its media to promote American ideas, American foreign policy, and American culture. This way of thinking probably has its roots in the fact that YLE does indeed reflect the official foreign policy of the Finnish government. Also, Kivinen concludes that CNN's news coverage is "extremely shallow" and only serves to improve the appeal of serious newspapers, such as his own, which, he claims, can "provide the in-depth analysis which people really want." According to Kivinen:
Finnish expectations: "Something very formal-not a show"
For example, let us return to Schudson's observation, mentioned in Chapter 6 of this
study, in which he stated that the principle fundamentals of commercial news media are
that they function as "brokers" for their own news.
"Self-advertising," as Schudson calls it, appeals to CNN's potential sponsors.
If, in the commercial environment, "...everything, including advertising, could and
should be news, " it is only logical that "everything, including news, could and
should be advertising...
CNN International's report on the Gulf War (see the transcript above) was viewed
by an audience of eighty Finnish students. After the initial viewing, intensive,
individual interviews were carried out. Participants were encouraged to draw independent
conclusions about CNN and its reporting of the Persian Gulf War, and although they were
prompted for details on various aspects of CNN's reports, interviewees were not led to
give any answers in particular. Each interview lasted for at least ten minutes, and often
for as long as 20 minutes. Most participants were in their mid-20s. Before viewing the
audience was asked to compare CNN's reporting to YLE and to disregard other news programs,
such as the Finnish Kymmenen Uutiset (the Finnish commercial evening news) or the
BBC. Frank and sincere answers were requested and first impressions were important, in
particular when it came to such matters as wardrobe, makeup, hairstyles, facial
expressions, gestures, the use of music, lighting, camera and editing. It was requested
that special attention be paid to vocabulary and "tone of voice" on
CNN-"How would it compare if it were in Finnish"?-participants were asked?
Most of those taking part in this study had heard of CNN from television commentaries
or from reports in Finnish newspapers. With the exception of short news clips shown on
YLE, however, few had seen an actual CNN broadcast. None of the participants considered
themselves regular CNN viewers and, although CNN is generally known to be an American
all-news network, few had actually ever seen it. The only other points of contact among
our Finnish audience with the American commercial news style were through American sitcoms
on Finnish commercial television during primetime or listening to local commercial radio
CNN's reputation among the Turku students was tainted by recent stories in the press
about CNN's "biased" reporting. In the interviews, many of those questioned were
able to point out immediately that CNN is an American television network which presents
the "official American point of view." Some believed that CNN was supported by
the US Government. Several hours of CNN's Persian Gulf War broadcasts had been shown for
free on Turku's cable television during the war in January of 1991 and many of those in
our audience had seen at least one broadcast. This limited exposure, combined with
critical Finnish media reviews during the war, contributed to the belief that CNN was
indeed "biased" and "sensational." It would seem that CNN's reputation
was blemished from the outset. On the other hand, it is also interesting to note how much
influence CNN had had on all of the media in Finland during the Persian Gulf War. CNN was,
in effect, the first and main source of breaking news for most television and radio
reports and newspaper articles in Finland. Newspaper reporters, for example, could stay at
home and watch the war on their TV sets, while composing their articles for the next day's
In spite of the expectations initially expressed among those in our audience that CNN
is American state supported, and for that reason "biased," it is important to
point out that most of those who viewed CNN's reporting from the Gulf were impressed with
CNN's ability to put on a "very good show." In fact many particpants began our
interviews with those very words. CNN's style was also considered "modern," and
YLE, correspondingly, "old fashioned." (Some stated, however, that older Finns
would not approve of CNN's pace, and that younger people would probably welcome its
rhythm, while better educated Finns would probably reject it.) Others stated the belief
that the commercial television media in general, especially Music Television (MTV) and
music videos, "conditioned" younger people to prefer CNN's style.
The fast pace, the lack of time to consider each story separately and the
"unexpected" news stories which were presented-or rather, "non-news,"
as some put it-were mentioned by almost everyone as being factors which contributed to
CNN's being "different." Most, in fact, considered the experts' opinions
practically irrelevant to the news story that was being reported. The sustained inclusion
by CNN of graphics and other elaborate visuals, such as computer-generated fades, drew
considerable notice and CNN's on-the-spot reporting gave the impression of being
"visually interesting" and "omnipresent." Most agreed that CNN offers
more pictures with a more personal, emotional message and style than YLE. Also, YLE
usually presents its anchors as "talking heads" or a voice-over, while CNN's
voice-overs are more often than not read by an on-the-spot reporter.
Again, as in earlier studies, many actually believed that CNN's anchors were ad-libbing
straight into the camera and not actually reading their lines. And, again, as before, some
mentioned that at times YLE anchors will even use words which are not generally understood
(in contrast to CNN). Also, the language used on YLE's evening news report is "more
formal." It was generally agreed that CNN's anchors seemed to be actually
"talking directly to the audience." Others, however, doubted the sincerity of
the friendly looks and stated that the anchors seemed almost "mechanical." Many,
on the other hand, stated that the anchors were "very convincing,"
"knowledgeable," and "persuasive."
One of the anchors, Carolyn Crier, was compared-not without derision-with a certain
Finnish fashion promoter because of her exquisite costume, makeup and
"Dallas-like" personality. The female anchors' general make-up and hairdos were
mentioned by most of those interviewed and most agreed that it reminded them of either a
commercial, a beauty contest, or the television soap opera "Dallas." While Finns
are certainly no less fashion conscious than Americans, when it comes to television news
anchors, I was told, women are not taken seriously when they wear heavy make-up and dress
up too much. One male student commented: "Finns like their news read by common
people; not the sharply-dressed types."
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Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.
Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.