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 "Finnish Views of CNN Television News" by Brett Dellinger
"Because of the structures of the various discourses within this broadcast genre, structures which were imposed by the pressures of its encompassing commercial objectives and design, it has an inherent inability to communicate information in the same way as the written word."

"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..."

This chapter also appeared in Mediapolis: Aspects of Texts, Hypertexts und Multimedial Communication under the title: "Concision in American Commercial Broadcasts." 

For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by JŠnos PetŲfi.

Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

The Structural Constraint of "Concision" as it is Used in the Discourse Style of American Commercial Broadcasting

(Continued from previous page)

Even though the talk on Crossfire cannot be categorized as a debate in the classical sense, every conversation, no matter how informal, has rules for turn taking. Analysis has shown that turns at speaking are "maintained," says McLaughlin, "until the first unilateral sound by another speaker, at which time the latter gains possession of the floor."


But, the point is, she did not decide to come out and do this the day before the election. (MIKE SHOUTS IN BACKGROUND.)

Instead she waited, pulled back and decided, "Iím not going to say anything," but it was only when her name got dragged out in the American Spectator....

Mike: But...but...look:  Janet!

John: Give her credit.....(UNCLEAR SPEECH)


Janet! Look Janet! Isnít there a double standard... Letís ...letís...Iíll even concede to you thereís a bit of a double standard on the liberal side, but isnít there also a double standard on the conservative sideóthat you people are pushing this Paula Jones thing with a whole lot of relish, and enjoying it, and accusing the media of not pursuing it heavily enough? Whereas, in the Anita Hill case you were horrified by the very idea?


...Huh-uh...Dead Wrong! We couldnít be more upset that the office of the Presidency is being smeared and blemished by this kind of activity, because the reality is, Mike: Who in America gets to rejoice and who wins when the office of the Presidency gets dragged through the mud? So we...


So....youíre saying....that Paula Jones should be ashamed of herself...that she should....Janet:

No. What weíre saying is, that Paula Jones should be given her day in court. She should be given the right of due process, the rules of evidence and, heaven help her, if she can find a jury and a judge thatís going to be able to hear her ....


Let me try once more and then Iíll give up.

Janet (SMILES): All right.


John shouts, "Hold on!" over the uproar. Rules about turn-taking only appear to have broken down in this debate because it is only mimicking conversation. Boundaries, however, can be very fluid in conversational turn-taking, and, not surprisingly, boundaries are mostly culturally determined. In some cultures, McLaughlin notes, longer periods of silence are tolerated before another turn is taken. This point is upheld by Philips, who discovered that, in the "talk patterns of Indians on the Warm Springs reservation," silence was "easily tolerated" and "interruptions...were rare," and that "replies" were often separated "from the utterance to which there was a response."


John: ...What are the criteria you applied in the Anita Hill case that you are now applying to the Miss Jones case? That says....


The very same criteria that we have applied across the board....[about Packwood]...that he had committed vile sexual mis........conduct....


Weíre not talking about...weíre talking about....

Kim (SHOUTS): Weíre talking about..

.John (SHOUTS LOUDER): Letís talk about...letís talk about these two...

Kim (RAISES HER VOICE): Where was the right wing....

John: Letís talk about these two...


In any conversation, says McLaughlin, longer pauses can become "awkward." A three-second period of silence, in American culture, would signal some sort of breakdown in the natural flow of the conversation, and would cause the competency of the speaker(s) to be called into question, or even suggest, as in the case of Crossfire, that the topic "can no longer sustain interaction."

Lehtonen and Sajavaara quote a Finnish poem which can perhaps better illustrate the Finnish view of the cued spontaneity on Crossfire:

Listen a lot, speak little.
One word is enough to make a lot of trouble.
One mouth, two ears.
A barking dog does not catch a hare.
A fool speaks a lot, a wise man thinks instead.
Brevity makes a good psalm.
One word is as good as nine.

Kim (CONTINUES): ...when Bob Packwood... (MUDDLED SPEECH)...

John (INTERRUPTS, SHOUTING): ....(UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...the Anita Hill case!

Kim (CONTINUES): ...were being bounced up...I do, I want to talk...

John (CONTINUES HIS MONOLOGUE): ...(INCOHERENT) ...and all the other examples...

Kim: ...about all of them. I want to say: Where was Operation Rescue? Where was Randall Terry? Where was Pat Robertson? ...when the women of Tailhook were trying to get a hearing....


John (SHOUTS ABOVE KIMíS MONOLOGUE): You really donít know how bad this looks: That youíre unwilling to make the comparison between Miss Jones and Miss Hill! You got yourself hoisted on your own petard, when you went out with criteria on Professor Hill and you came out within 48 hours ...public statement...

Kim: ...(CONTINUES TALKING UNDER JOHNíS ACCUSATIONS...SHE CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD.)Your nose is growing John Sununu! You know very well....

John (INTERRUPTS): ....he was before the congressional hearing...(Kim is shouting in the background)... and within 48 hours you came out with a statement...

Kim (CONTINUES HER MONOLOGUE): ...absolutely...she went to the committee with those charges....


Mike: I think, I think, I think the point that John doesnít quite grab, ...that Kim was trying to make, if I may try my hand at it, is that NOW (OTHERS CONTINUE TALKING BUT GET QUIETER)

...did not take a stand on the Anita Hill case until after there had been a public hearing, in which she could not only make her statement, but she could be cross-examined....


Concerning simultaneous talk within conversations, research has shown that a hearer can make a "credible demonstration that she already possesses information that the speaker is attempting to provide her with" and therefore, renders her contribution to the conversation even more credible. Another reason for speaking simultaneously is "the need of speakers to secure the gaze of their hearers." Simultaneous talk can, however, signify an intrusion, an attempt to establish dominance or power. However, interruptions seem to be commonplace, since people are able to carry out the tasks of speaking and listening at the same time. The attitude towards interruptions is also culturally determined.

While in the prevailing culture in the United States, interruptions may seem to be a conversational matter of some consequence... [One study shows that in an Antiguan village] ...not only were there no norms against interruption, but there also seemed to be a prevailing pattern of "counter-noise," such that anotherís talking seemed to be a good enough reason for one to begin talking himself, at the same time.

In American culture, interruptions and simultaneous talk, other than that which is used to establish dominance by one speaker over the other, may also signify that "an incorrect statement by another" was made, and works to "secure the gaze of the hearer."

According to Lehtonen and Sajavaara, Finns use "vocalizations and verbal backchannel signals" less than speakers of Central European languages or English speakers do. "Verbal backchannel signals," do exist in Finnish, but "too frequent use...is considered intrusive" and considered to be a negative trait of the speaker, "typical of drunken people." Finns, instead, nod their heads in approval and use eye contact with the speaker. "The typical Finn is a Ďsilentí listener." Tannenís study, in which she analyzed a taped, 2Ĺ-hour conversation among friends around the Thanksgiving dinner table, revealed that "subcultural differences" caused "misunderstandings." For example, three participants in her study, from New York City, "seemed to dominate" because of the "differences in their turn-taking habits and ways of showing friendliness."..........

Mike (INTERRUPTS): I give up!

John (BROAD SMILE): Weíll be back in a second, and when we return weíll ask our guests how they think President Clinton should defend himself against the claims of Miss Jones.(LOUD MUSIC BEGINS)

Anita Hill (from an archived interview dubbed in over the loud music ):

I have to face the possibility that sometimes people who we admire and respect and we want to do well may engage in behavior that is objectionable, and may be even against the law.

John Packwood: I think the thing that intrigues me most is the way the womenís groups look for a way to absolutely excoriate me and look for some way to attempt to exonerate the President and I just find that an intriguing double standard. (Music ends, commercial begins.)

[Commercial BEGINS]


According to a 1993 report by the Finnish Association of Language Teachers (SUKOL), "Finns have an especially sophisticated and well-developed body language to insure" turn taking. Finns, accordingly, "do not indicate verbally or prosodically" that "the right to speak is transferred to another person." Instead, it is indicated by means of the "glance."

When we consider that the meaning of silence among us Finns is different from that represented by many other speech cultures, the length of a pause does not necessarily function as a signal to change turns when speakingóat least among us. To foreigners, however, a pause usually signals precisely that the turn is changing. The pauses in a talk and the pauses after the end of a talk have only a few tenths of a second difference, but suffice to mark turn taking. Finnish expectations and audience interpretations of Crossfire

The forty students who were interviewed in groups of twos and threes after watching the first half of Crossfire were asked to express their own reactions to the "debate," based on their own experiences from watching television debates on Finlandís YLE. The following reactions were recorded:1. The "pace" was much faster than any debate on YLE and there seemed to be no pauses or silence.


Camera shots lasted from 3-7 seconds throughout the debate. The music had a fast beat. The speakers allowed very short pauses between sentences, seemingly leaving little time for reflection.

 The debate was very much like a commercial, and the beginning reminded one of a soap opera or a movie.


The announcer shouted, in a voice-over above a musical background, ""Live!" (followed by more music) "From Washington!" (more music) "Crossfire!" etc.

The audience was forced to devote total attention to the participants.


"Hand cam" shots were taken by the camera crew (to make the camera seem invisible to the audience). Extra close-ups and a dark background forced the audience to focus only on the participants. (YLE does not use this method and usually has background scenery, furniture, a window, or plants.)

The four talked to each other as if they were old friends. This "debate" was as informal as a family argument. There was no chairperson (as is the practice on YLE and in other formal meetings in formal situations in Finland).


Kim: "...in the Anita Hill case, we took no position until after both Anita Hill and Clearance Thomas had testifiedówe found her testimony .... credible..."(John interrupts: "....Immediately after her statement you came out with a position...")

Kim interrupts John: It was only after testimony was completed...(more interruptions, ending in John having to shout to get his turn to speak: ...no, no, no...her public statement ...at the hearings...").

The "feelings," the emotions (anger, contempt, delight) seemed to be the most weighty matter of the debate, as opposed to the precise, academic logic of a more intellectual discussion, as would be commonly expected on Finnish state television. By Finnish television standards, the entire discussion was considered to be a bit naive, though entertaining.


KIM: (smiling): "John, your nose is growing, even as we speak! " (This statement seemed to portray a feeling of ridicule, belittlement of John's position.) KIM: Hill was a conservative law professor ...(LAUGHTER FROM AROUND THE TABLE)...who served in the Reagan ...and Bush administrations, and that she was.... (INTERRUPTIONS ARE HEARD FROM A LAUGHING JANET PARSHALL) John (INTERRUPTS, WHILE SHOUTING AND REPEATING): ...And followed the man she accused around from job to job! (MORE LAUGHTER FOLLOWS) Kim (SHOUTS WHILE SPEAKING SIMULTANEOUSLY): She was a supporter of Robert Bork! Now, if that makes her a lib... (INTERRUPTIONS)..eral (KIM BREAKS OUT LAUGHING) symp(athizer)... (INCOHERENT SHOUTING FROM ALL SIDES....)

When compared with debates on Finnish television, Crossfireís form of address seemed to be placed, from the beginning, on a very personal level, with very little distance established between the participants (and hopefully making them seem more accessible to American audiences). Direct answers were given in informal, colloquial language and participants looked each other directly in the eye while talking, and not into the camera, as would be the case in Finland.


Janet: "Mike, thereís a wonderful saying in the world of music..."Mike: "But...but...look: Janet! ...Janet! Look Janet! "

Kim (as if addressing a naughty child): "Your nose is growing John Sununu! You know very well...."

It was in fact John, the conservative, who consistently avoided first names, and also announced the "breaks" (which were in fact commercial breaks. John: "we'll be back"...(No mention, however, of a commercial).

John, by not being as informal as the others, seemed to be asserting his own, conservative, authority. Everyone, as if on cue, stopped talking immediately at John's mention of a commercial break. His demeanor, since he also represented the sponsors, gave a measure of sobriety to the discussion--which only added to the feeling that the others were indeed only clowning.

Rude behavior, personal insults, accusations, and even name calling seemed to be the rule on Crossfire (not acceptable as "serious" behavior on YLE). Finger pointing and persistent interruptions seemed to be a constraint expected by the guests and encouraged by the hosts, meaning that the goal of the debate was: "Do not agree on anything."

Such behavior was exemplified by "sarcastic" and "testy" phrases which seemed abrasive to Finns. "Stronger" adjectives were used as well. It seemed that the hosts, Mike and John, were obviously trying to be as provocative as possible, leading the guests into verbal combat.


Mike: "They were outraged and contemptuous when Anita Hill told her naughty stories about their man Clarence Thomas, but they gleefully support Paula Jones with her lurid tales about their nemesis Bill Clinton.

Kim: "The other kind of little revisionist history thatís going on here is the story that Ms. Parshall started earlier today on Sonya Live..."John: "...Hold on!... "

John: "We have night after night here on Crossfire, saying, "This is disgusting, this womanís a liar, this womanís a hussy, we donít believe her for a moment. Sheís tarring this public man unfairly. This whole thing is a circus."8. Most puzzling for our Finnish audience was that in spite of the rude behavior and constant interruptions, everyone invariably smiled. This made the "debate" seem more like a show and, therefore, signaled that it was not to be taken seriously.


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Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

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Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.

Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.

 Chapter 8's Go to chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b 7a | 7b | 8 | 8b
Footnotes Discussion  Conclusion Bibliography