chapter  10
24 Pages

Walling Germany with Brass: Theoretical Paradigms in British Studies of Television News

For the last decade news has been the principal television programme form studied by media sociologists in Britain. The first generation of studies (first for Britain, for the study of television news goes back at least as far as the Langs’ study of the Chicago MacArthur day and its presentation on television [Lang and Lang, 1952]) exploded the broadcaster’s claims to offer a neutral, impartial and unbiased version of reality to audiences. Whether analysing the professional practice of the newsmakers or news programmes themselves, this first generation of studies (Cohen and Young, 1973; Glasgow University Media Group, 1976 and 1980; Schlesinger 1978; Baggaley and Duck, 1976) were concerned with establishing that information in television news output was produced: selected, organized, structured and (necessarily) ‘biased’. This critique has, as Anthony Smith says, become ‘a firmly entrenched reverse view whereby objectivity is coming to be thought to be an impossible goal because all facts are taken from reality embedded in points of view. A framework of values is therefore implicit in all recordings of events’ (Smith, 1977). A second generation of writers has begun to raise-and prompted by the South Atlantic war of 1982 we may anticipate growth in their volume of output-the source of the bias as the central question for study. How far is television news, and its producers, autonomous, and how much constrained by other centres of power? What is the nature of the ‘determination’ of television news and what are the relations between state, capital and television in the field? Work by Connell (1978, 1979), Golding and Murdock (1979) and Sparks (1976, 1977) has, though not articulated at so great a length as the first generation studies, addressed the theoretical questions of autonomy and determination and relations of state, capital and television news. They offer a variety of theorizations of the degree to which the processes of ideological reproduction performed by TV news can be said to be determined by the economic and the political. Behind these works lies an extensive debate about the nature of the capitalist state marked by the work of Miliband (1969, 1972), Althusser (1971),

Poulantzas (1972), and by West German theorization via translations edited by Holloway and Piccotto (1978). Harris (1983), and Hooper (1982), most recently address themselves concretely to the dance of the powerful negotiating the production of news’ account of reality, particularly of the South Atlantic war.