L’identité contre la neutralité dans la politique éditoriale des chaînes transnationales d’information / Редакционный нейтралитет в международном информационном телевещании
© LOCTIER Denis, Université Lyon 2, 2012. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Accessible online in French and Russian at the Université Lumière (Lyon 2), one of the top Universities in France for research in the field of arts and languages, social sciences and humanities, economics, political sciences and law.
“This study summarizes ten years of observations, complemented with conceptual theoretical basis and numerous practical examples. There is no doubt that this work will be of true interest for television professionals and academics alike.”
Anna KACHKAEVA, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Dean of the Faculty of Media Communications,
National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia
“Among the merits of this study are its strong empirical basis and its harmonious analytical concept: in each chapter, the author continuously investigates his hypothesis of the neutrality and objectivity as a foundation of the editorial line. The thesis by Denis Loctier has a clear practical value, as its materials can be used fully and immediately in academic courses on TV theory and practice, as well as on the modern problematics of international media. An original, solid and timely scholarly work.”
Andrei RASKINE, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Head of Department of TV and Radio,
Faculty of Journalism, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
“Des travaux scientifiques cités se présentent comme des opinions auquel l’auteur oppose ses convictions acquises dans la pratique, montrant ainsi une certaine réticence à se détacher de la position d’acteur pour occuper celle plus distancée du chercheur. Cette posture ne débouche pas cependant sur la simple affirmation d’une position “naïve” ou “militante”: l’auteur interroge en effet dans la suite, en s’appuyant sur divers travaux scientifiques, la notion même de “neutralité” comme concept et comme idéal de la pratique des rédactions, pour conclure que la neutralité est “intrinsèquement subjective.”
Professeur émérite en Science de l’Information et de la Communication,
Université de Strasbourg, France
The national and international televisions are going through a period of wide-scale changes, characterized by such factors as spreading of digital broadcasting formats and rising competition for the viewer, transition on the international news stage from the dominance of anglo-saxon round-the-clock channels to rivalry of broadcasters from various world regions, growing importance of transnational media in the context of the new opportunities and threats represented by the amplification of globalization and informatization processes in the world economy.
That explains the attention devoted by theorists and practitioners of mass media to finding advantageous editorial strategies that would simplify the adaptation to the changes. One of the efficient methods to winning the confidence of the elite audience is building the perception of neutral and impartial coverage of current events. Consequently, the problem of the editorial neutrality in the news sphere of the “global village” has a significant practical aspect and deserves a comprehensive study.
The international satellite news channels have always been a subject of meticulous research, and the leading networks are well described in the literature. However, the role of the declared editorial neutrality in the identity of such channels, the conditional subjectivity of this guideline shaped by the cultural, economical and political contexts, as well as the influence of the audience’s bias on its perception of a news content as more or less neutral still lacks research.
The processes of editorial transnationalisation in the global media are little studied, particularly in Russia. As noted by researchers, the study of the global media system is mainly based on the paradigm of international communication as a communication between national states, which doesn’t reflect the modern situation accurately enough. Particularly poorly understood is arguably the most significant example of a fundamentally super-national news channel that completely lacks a common national or language basis – Euronews, which has lately been demonstrating a profound internal transformation and decisive shift from a pan-regional to a global presence.
The author relied on the theoretical works of many Russian and international media researchers, including J. Chalaby, I. Volkmer, M. Deuze, L. Barkho, S. Cottle, T. Vissol, J. Gripsrud and others.
The author is deeply grateful for the scientific direction and priceless recommendations that made this work possible to Professor Valeriy Leonidovich Tsvik (The Institute of Continuing Studies of the TV and Radio Workers, Moscow, Russia) and Professor Jean-Claude Soulages (Université Lumière Lyon II, Lyon, France).
The scientific contribution
This work represents an attempt to shed light onto the factors that explain the yearning of the transnational news channels to creating the impression of editorial neutrality in conflict coverage. It also demonstrates the conditionality of this guideline by the internal editorial limitations, as well as by the bias of the audience groups. The privileged position of the author, who has for more than a decade been working as a staff journalist within the international editorial team of Euronews, allowed him to test his hypotheses and findings from within.
The object of the study is the contemporary global system of transnational satellite news TV channels. Its subject is the concept of neutrality in the editorial identity and policy of the main transnational TV broadcasters.
The study aspires to contribute to the existing understanding of the specificity of the international news networks by comprehensively analyzing the contexts in which the declared principles of the editorial neutrality are realized.
The objectives and the methodology of the study
In order to achieve one’s goals, the author intends to expose the historical premises of the development of the international news channels and define the present situation on the global satellite news market to study the theoretical concepts of the editorial neutrality and the variety of its practical implementations and perceptions by the audience, based on the most exemplary models of the transnational TV broadcasting. In addition, it would be appropriate to study the concrete case of an international news channel that came particularly close to a practical implementation of the idea of an editorial neutrality.
It occurs that the transnational news channels declare neutrality of their editorial policies seeking to attract their premium international target audience; however, the practical realization of this principle runs into objective national, cultural, financial, political and other obstacles that shape, as a result, the individual editorial identities of the channels.
This study demonstrates how the development of the global news system creates incentives to the appearance, expansion and transnationalization of international news channels, which, in order to gain competitive advantage, proclaim neutrality of their editorial policies and make efforts to build their according perception by the public. This neutral inclination contributes to the transition from international confrontation within the logic of information warfare to shaping a global public sphere, giving hope to improving the mutual understanding between the regions of the planet.
This goal is significantly complicated, however, by the variety of historical, political, social, demographic and other contexts of broadcasters’ editorial work, as well as by the biased perception by the audience. These factors effectively dilute the idea of editorial neutrality, which so far is being realized as a set of conflicting notions held by the broadcasters and viewers.
The methods employed in preparing this dissertation include involved observational research of a leading international news channel, the analysis of the perception of news content by viewers ranking among confronting political camps, and reviews of topical Russian and European periodicals and literature.
Theoretical and practical importance
The news system is an important part of the modern information society, and studying the transnational broadcasting improves the understanding of socio-political processes on global and local levels. Understanding the concepts and practices of the leading international news channels allows to use their positive and negative experience in developing editorial strategies for transborder broadcasting.
The empirical base
The study is based on recent studies published in leading international media study journals (such as “International Journal of Communication”, “European Journal of Communication”, “Media, Culture & Society”, “Global Media and Communication” etc.), on the international regulatory papers in the domain of the transnational broadcasting, on the editorial guidelines and archive material of the global news channels, as well as on observation data on the news perception by the politically opposite audience groups throughout 2009-2011.
The structure of the thesis
The main part of the dissertation consists of four chapters.
In the first chapter, the author exposes the object of the study, analyzing the historical record and the modern state of the international news sphere, highlighting the key factors of its development.
The second chapter summarizes the complex of theoretical notions on the editorial neutrality in the context of the satellite news channels.
The third chapter deals with the problem of practical realization of this principle and its conditionality by a set of political, financial, cultural, national and other factors that shape an individual editorial identity of leading international news broadcasters.
The forth chapter is a detailed case study of the Euronews channel, which, due to its special editorial organization, manages to resist the partiality factors to achieve a relatively neutral editorial line compared to the competition.
The main contents
The introduction explains the topicality of the presented problem, the necessity and the current status of its investigation, formulates the main goals and tasks of the research, defines its scientific novelty and practical importance.
“Chapter 1. The international TV news broadcasting: history, evolution and modernity” premises the analysis of the phenomenon of the declared editorial neutrality of the international news channels by the necessary study of the evolution of the transborder broadcasting and of the adaptation of the editorial policies to the modern globalization processes. Section “1.1 International TV broadcasting before the present stage” notes the first contours of a pan-european public sphere back in the 18 century – the age of printed press – when foreign newspapers were distributed freely around many countries of the continent. The tendencies have changed in the 19 century, with strengthening of national states and centralization of power led to dissolution of a European public sphere to multiple national spheres, where the foreign news coverage was alienating neighboring peoples in order to build separate national identities.
The softening of the national borders in the media domain was catalyzed by the development of radio broadcasting and the establishment of national broadcasting companies in the 1930-s. This stage of the transnational media evolution was defined by the new possibility to transmit news and political information across the borders, which promptly became a convenient tool of the competing powers. Later, the mutual “shelling” with radio propaganda embodied the ideological confrontation of the Cold War. In this situation, any editorial neutrality was out of the question: the journalist teams of propaganda stations served a mouthpiece of their governments, charged with promoting a certain political viewpoint while refuting or diminishing the significance of the others. Still, paramount to our study are the conclusions of various researchers who note higher persuasiveness of the information presented in a neutral manner, compared to an openly polemical propaganda that often antagonizes the audience.
The emergence of satellite TV technologies in the 1960s advanced the transnational news exchange, failing however to replace the shortwave radio stations in their political vocation. It’s important to note that the images transmitted via satellites weren’t received by the audience directly, but rather through the intermediary of the national TV stations that presented the events through their own perspective, domesticating the foreign news. Still, the availability of the common documentary footage for the whole world community became an important step towards greater neutrality of the international information: the viewers became eyewitnesses of the world events, which reduced the propaganda efficiency of the text commentary that seized the whole attention of the audience of the newspapers and radio stations.
Finally, the next stage in the evolution of transnational media was marked with the creation of commercial satellite channels that treated news as goods to sale on attractive markets. This favored the spreading of new formats – such as “breaking news” and “fact journalism” that seek to avoid direct propaganda or any national contextualisation of world news. For the first time in the history of mass media, the national broadcasting model was abandoned for a new kind of media culture, separated from a narrow national perspective. At the same time, further development of satellite communications led to establishment of a global TV news infrastructure, based on super-nationally governed video exchange networks and TV news agencies. This contributes to building a common identity via the common TV news agenda that slowly loosens the nation-state world-view rooted in the 19th century. However, the video exchange is still generally based on the local stations that keep putting the foreign news into national contexts. The genuine neutrality demands a deliverance from the national middleman.
The section “1.2 The present factors of the international news channels’ development” ascertains that the modern processes of globalization and integration of national states in politics, economy and culture became a natural environment for development of transnational TV channels in global scale: the demand for the urgent and comprehensive news from anywhere on the planet grows with the world becoming, according to McLuhan, a “global village” that “absolutely insures maximal disagreement on all points.” The western literature that studies the interdependence of globalization and media regards the transnational news channels as the acting forces of globalization that undermine the national political, economical and cultural perspectives the mainstream media are so accustomed to.
Investigating the aspect of legislative regulation of transnational broadcasting, the author notes the almost complete absence of global restrictions. There limits exist on the national and regional levels, where the threat of sanctions compels the most radical TV channels to adjust their editorial policies, shifting from extreme positions towards a more moderate and neutral line.
An important incentive to creating transnational news channels is the notion of their potential influence on the policies of states and international organizations – the so-called “CNN effect”. Ascertaining the lack of consensus among the researchers in regard to the actual existence of this effect, the author notes, however, that the formats of “breaking news” and live transmissions are perceived as a potential political lever, increasing the state support to the new round-the-clock transnational news channels – such as Russian RT, Iranian Press TV, Georgian PIK and others.
Another factor that contributes to the fast expansion of transnational satellite channels is the migration – business, work or recreational, an important phenomenon of the globalized world. The ethnical-oriented channels (such as Phoenix Chinese News and Entertainment for Chinese diaspora in Europe, or Al Jazeera for the global arab-speaking audience) differ from the global broadcasters that target culturally diverse audiences, but demonstrate similar tendencies: the more neutral editorial line correlates with advantage in the growing competition.
The section “1.3 Transnational TV news sector: the current state” examines the present-day evolution of the global news arena, propelled by the IT revolution, emergence of new media, convergence of broadcasting modes, transition from analog to digital formats, and globalization of the media industry. The author states a genuine quantitative explosion: today more than a hundred global, regional and national round-the-clock satellite news channels are covering with their transmissions almost all inhabited world regions. Counterbalancing the Western dominance, a pleiad of newcomers with global ambitions represent the alternative geopolitical poles – the Arab world, Russia, China, Iran etc. Interestingly, many of the “newcomers” generally follow the style set by the “veterans” of the global broadcasting: despite the differences in the editorial strategies, the norms of journalistic professionalism and aesthetic standards seem to converge.
In order to estimate the geographical diversity and the concentration of the ownership in the sector of the transnational news channels the study examines the North and South America, Europe, Middle East, South and East Asia, as well as the “white spots” on the world map of the satellite news TV – Australia, Oceania and Africa. Despite the recent tendencies, the Western dominance on the global news market continues. It’s also true in regard to the major media owners (such as the american concern Time Warner or Rupert Murdoch’s satellite TV empire News Corporation). Nevertheless, the increasing geographical and economical diversity of the broadcasters increases the competition and restricts the potential of the concerns to influence public opinion through the media under their control. The increasing variety of forms of ownership gives a reason to question the common notions of corporate dominance in this area.
The section continues by determining the nature and reflection on editorial policies of such factors as the global destabilization and increase of conflicts, including the media dimension of the international terrorism, as well as economical globalization and transnationalisation. In the current polemic between the hyperglobalist scholars who predict the emergence of a global public sphere as a result of the global media evolution, and their opponents who remain attached to the cultural imperialism paradigm, the author tends to see the hyperglobalists as more convincing. The paradigm of the cultural imperialism in the modern world is particularly challenged by the emerging network model of mass communication: the audience employs various technologies of data transmission, linking the tools of interpersonal communication (mobile phones, text messages, internet chat and others) with mass media technologies. As a result, the information spreads in all directions.
Another factor that shapes the editorial policies of transnational news channels is the widespread practice of homogenization and diversification of the news content, that allows media to take advantage of the broadening of the potential audience and at the same time to adapt it to the interests and needs of particular regional and local viewers. This so-called “McDonaldization” of the news production leads, however, to predominance of mainstream views in the public discourse and to further marginalisation of alternative opinions.
“Chapter 2. The concept of the editorial neutrality” covers the theoretical notions on neutrality as a norm of news journalism. The word “neutrality” in Russian and other European languages share similar meaning, originating from latin “neuter” (“neither one, nor the other”). The neutrality the context of editorial policy generally means a rejection of taking sides in the conflicts covered by the media. One of the criteria of an impartial coverage is the neutrality of the lexicon used by the journalist to describe the facts. A thorough study reveals a notable variety of journalistic methods and guidelines imposed by the complex environments of their media operations.
The section “2.1 Historical roots of media neutrality” attributes the concept of a neutral coverage to three key factors:
- the emergence of bourgeois public sphere in the 18th century;
- the advance of a large-circulation commercial printed press in the late 19th century;
- the institutionalization of professional norms of objectivity and impartiality in the newspaper and radio journalism in the beginning of the 20th century.
The modern concepts of impartiality as a professional ideal in the media were established at the end of the 1960s (primarily in the USA and the Great Britain, rather than in the continental Europe where the attitudes towards the editorial neutrality still vary). A neutral coverage of conflicts was to follow a set of the guiding principles:
- the separation of facts from opinions;
- an emotionally detached presentation;
- an aspiration towards fair and balanced representation of opinions, where every side has an opportunity to explain their views fully and adequately.
The establishment of this set of rules was judged beneficial both to the media and to the social and political elites. The burden of responsibility for the news content was shifted from the journalist onto the source of information, liberating the reporter from the need to fully investigate the subject. The standard procedure of presenting the arguments of the conflicting sides protected the journalist from the accusations of bias; moreover, such format of news coverage was perceived as just by the public, which contributed to reinforcement of social power structures.
The section “2.2 Neutrality and objectivity” notes the differences between this two concepts: a neutral coverage within the frames of a given editorial policy, without taking sides or making judgements is a usual rule in the newsrooms. In contrast, a genuine objectivity of informational coverage is perceived by the journalists and media scholars as a value reference unachievable in reality. This section presents the notion of a “contextual objectivity” introduced in recent literature on the subject and supported by the current study. The contextualization reflects the operational environment of a certain media and acknowledges the subjectivity of the viewer’s perception: the audience demands a coverage that it will perceive as objective, not a genuinely objective coverage. That’s one of the reasons why different viewers consider different channels to be “objective”. The notion of contextual objectivity implies that the audience is biased and tends to consume the media content through the prism of their own convictions. That reduces the principle of “objectivity” in the editorial policies of media to simple neutrality in covering conflicts as perceived by the target audience that shares the same set of values.
The section “2.3 The context of the satellite news channels” specifies the operational environment of the narrow category of the transnational media: it’s defined by a highest possible political, national, ethnical, cultural, religious and other diversity of the audience, which contributes to shifting of the editorial line towards a more neutral coverage, attracting the moderate audience. At the same time, the radical adherents of opposing viewpoints on conflict issues similarly perceive such coverage as biased against their side.
The section “2.4 Neutrality in the deontological codes” studies the assertion of neutrality and balance in the editorial charters of the leading transnational media, examining such distinctive tokens as abstaining from taking sides, balanced coverage of opposite views, rejection of editorials and general simplification of analysis, renouncing the charged lexic and sometimes depersonalization of the presentation.
The observance of the most neutral, contextually objective editorial line accords with the long-term interests of the international channels that strive for the expansion and winning the confidence of the elite viewership. However, in their daily work the editorial staff experiences internal and external pressure of forces trying to affect the coverage of conflicts. In order to support the neutral (as seen by the staff) editorial line, the internal organization of the media provides for a set of minimal criteria and measures to protect the journalists from the pressure and ensure their unimpeded compliance to the editorial guidelines. The section “2.5 The conditions of editorial neutrality” analyses the requirements maintained by the leading transnational news channels and agencies, such as the editorial professionalism, self-control and independence; a wide variety of sources of information; the culture of strict adherence to the ethical principles.
In conclusion of the 2nd chapter, the author recapitulates that the notion of neutrality of the editorial line was formed in the process of historical evolution of professional principles of reputable media, reinforced with professionalization, commercialization and globalization of news media. The idea of neutrality finds widespread support in the guidelines of media organizations. At the same time, neutrality is inherently subjective as it relies upon the values held by the editorial staff as well as upon the preferences and expectations of the audience. The fundamental criteria of neutral conflict coverage become particularly important on the transnational, pan-regional and global scale. However, the adherence to such criteria requires professionalism and high organizational standards of the international news channels.
The difficulty of the practical realization of a neutral editorial policy compels researchers to question or negate the feasibility of the the editorial charters’ requirements. The “Chapter 3. The transnational news coverage in practice” deals with the obstacles faced by the leading satellite news channels and analyses the resulting effect on their editorial identities.
The section “3.1 The practical contextuality of the neutrality” reveals the evident variation of editorial criteria depending on the target audience, the political or security environment, and the national journalistic culture. Determining the internal patterns of the “contextual neutrality” will explain the varying editorial identities of transnational news channels.
The section “3.1.1 The arguments against impartiality” sums up the conclusions of modern researchers who regard the declared aspiration for an editorial neutrality as an artificial restriction of polemics by a narrow frame of mainstream views – the so-called “sphere of legitimate polemics”. A refusal to take positions becomes a position by itself, close to the political centrism. Its practical implementation becomes a ritual – a set of standardized actions based on official sources rather than self-reliant journalistic search for the truth. Not only the genuine objectivity is seen as impossible – even as a reference it poses certain problems by creating an illusion of an equilibrium of the opposite positions. In practice that leads to an unjustified and disproportionate exaggeration of one positions and diminishing the others, which benefits one side of the conflict.
The hardest challenge to the editorial neutrality of the transborder news channels are the military conflicts that involve the countries they’re based in or financed by. The section “3.1.2 The military conflicts as a partializing factor” reviews the episodes of information warfare on the satellite arena during the military campaigns in Yugoslavia (1999), South Ossetia (2008), Iraq (2003) and others. The author points out that the lack of effective global legislation on satellite TV broadcasting allows the conflicting countries to intervene into the satellite infrastructure operations, complicating the diffusion of information and impeding the media efforts to cover the events in a balanced manner. The armies at war plan and control the news dissemination, using coordinated press releases, interviews, conferences and speeches to achieve a synchronous and uniform coverage of the campaign in the media. Having no means to verify the official statements, the media often reproduces the propagandistic disinformation. The military-political control becomes more efficient with the increasing peril to journalists trying to work in the conflict areas independently, without a military protection. Another important obstacle to a neutral war coverage is the moral conflict of war reporters who feel the neutral editorial policy coming in contradiction to their patriotic or humanitarian feelings. Nevertheless, in the last decade the coverage of military conflicts tends to become more balanced, which gives evidence of increasing pluralism with spreading of communication technologies simplifying access to alternative viewpoints.
The section “3.1.3 The value basis of the editorial staff” further focuses on the moral contradiction between the personal values of the journalist and the requirement to cover the conflict neutrally. An equal impartiality towards a strong aggressor and its weaker victim may be seen as connivance, playing on the side of the strongest. It represents a serious problem to many journalists and researchers, as illustrated by the cited opinions of the veteran war reporters. However, a solidarity of the journalist with the unfairly suffering side deprives the audience of neutral information necessary to make its own conclusions on that matter.
The selection of news is also based on the subjective editorial understanding of the needs and interests of the audience. The section “3.1.4 Local selection and ranking of the news” notes that the conflicts that don’t involve a certain region are generally ignored by that region’s media. For instance, the attention attended to terror attacks in Western media depends directly on the presence of westerners among the victims. Cynically as it may sound, the news organizations have an unwritten concept of a comparative informational value of the events that led to death of citizens of different countries. The daily loss of more than 5000 lives to AIDS in Africa, the comparable losses of children’s lives due to tuberculosis and malaria doesn’t receive news coverage. The death of thousands and the poisoning of more than 200 thousand indians after the Bhopal chemical plant disaster in 1984 got incomparably less attention than the 2001 terror attacks in the United States, and so on. Therefore, the communication of a news to the audience depends on the subjective interpretation of the event and its relevance to the interests of the audience by the editorial staff.
The section “3.1.5 National political interests” acknowledges that a portion of transnational news channels are created and funded by the governments of respective countries in order to spread their vision of current events and to promote their foreign policy agenda. Many state channels recognize the inefficiency of propaganda model in the modern system of international media, so they tend to conceal the official points of view by presenting alternative opinions that create an appearance of relative pluralism. However, their editorial lines return to strictly official in case of events critically important to the government. Less evident is the interaction between the authorities and the channels that preserve their political and economical autonomy due to functional legislation and financial self-dependency. It would be relevant to note that the internationalization of the coverage, of the editorial staff and of the sources of income contributes to strengthening the political autonomy of the news channels and broadens the context in which they draw their editorial line.
The section “3.1.6 The subjectivity of the news reporting” reminds of a well-explored problem of the correspondent’s work in the field: the reports include the journalists’ own subjective commentaries and interpretation of the context, that makes it harder to cover the event neutrally. The reporter gets involved into the action, becoming himself one of the contradicting sources of information. The subjective interpretation remains the basis for choosing soundbites and explaining the conflicting positions. This inherent subjectivity of the news report genre reflects the limited possibilities of the media: even striving to follow an impartial editorial policy, to refrain from personal judgements and to present all the sides of the conflict, the reporter apprehends the event through the subjective filter of his own knowledge, culture, viewership and the instructions of the editorial management.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the perception of the news content as more or less neutral depends not only on the sender, but also on the receiver. The examples studied in “3.1.7 The relativity of viewers’ perception” demonstrate how various groups of the audience interpret and assess the same content in various, often predictable ways. While journalists commit themselves to a distant and neutral approach to conflicts coverage, the viewers aren’t obliged to do the same. The audience actively analyses and categorizes the stream of information that it receives through a prism of its own commitments and beliefs. The audience that sincerely shares a viewpoint of one of the conflicting parties, will tend to interpret as “objective”, “neutral” and “fair” only the information that corresponds to its own bias. At the same time, a coverage that provides balanced presentation of conflicting viewpoints and may appear neutral to the editorial staff, will be perceived by such audience as unfair, obviously promoting the opposite side: instead of unmasking the deceitful enemies, the TV channel gives them airtime. In the scientific literature, this phenomenon is known as the “hostile media effect”: the adherents of all conflicting sides are inclined to see the media painting them in negative light.
The hostile media effect has found support during this study: the observation of the russian blogosphere from January 2009 to June 2011 allowed to collect more than a hundred opinions of the bloggers about the bias perceived in the editorial lines of such channels as Euronews, CNN International, BBC World News, RT. Comparing the opinions with the respective political orientations of the bloggers allows to conclude that all those viewers representing opposing sides of various conflicts similarly complained about the unfairness towards the party they support. Such contrasting perception of a neutral news content by politically biased viewers in Russia is particularly frequent in case of the Euronews channel, easily available to the country’s audience. That part of the study results is presented in detail in “4.9 The contextuality of the neutrality of Euronews”.
The section “3.2 Editorial identities of transnational news channels” is comparing the historical backgrounds, present status and editorial lines (especially in the conflict coverage) of the leading channels representing a variety of forms of ownership and funding, legislative regulations, national and cultural media traditions and geopolitical contexts.
The section “3.2.1 CNN International” studies the circumstances of the creation and the development of this channel, its present position on the global satellite news market, the “american perspective” as the specificity of the editorial identity, as well as particularities of its coverage of such conflicts as the “Allied Force” NATO operation – the 78-days bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999; the coverage of the military operations that followed the terror attacks on 11 September 2001; its coverage of the bombings in Madrid 11 march 2004 and the riots in French suburbs in 2005. The author concludes that CNN International is a demonstrative example of a combination of advantages and deficiencies of a private channel whose financial and political interests are concentrated in the country of its origin. The efficient commercial management allows this channel to enjoy ample funding to televise news quickly from any place on Earth thanks to its network of bureaus and local correspondents. Its independence from authorities allows CNN International to freely spread the information that could be undesirable to some of the governments in its zone of broadcasting – a necessary condition to politically neutral coverage of conflicts. However, the interests of private owners come to the fore when treating the most sensitive topics to the american audience. CNN International becomes hostage of its shared news production with the CNN/US, which worries about national ratings and has to take into account the patriotic convictions of its viewers when covering wars that involve american forces. As a result, CNN International against its will gets turned into a mouthpiece of the american perspective, which hinders its reputation in other countries of the world.
In “3.2.2 BBC World News” author reviews the historical roots of the news channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation intended for the audiences abroad, the specificity of its funding and management, defines the “british perspective” as the base of the editorial line, and presents a cross-study of the BBC’s track record in covering conflicts sensitive to British interests – such as the armed separatism in the Northern Ireland in the 1970-s, the “war against terror” and the Iraq intervention in 2003, as well as direct political conflicts of the broadcasting corporation with the British government (“The Kelly’s case” in 2003). BBC World News follows the established traditions of BBC and the legislative regulation of the Great Britain. It remains a generally accepted model of a neutral and professional news coverage. However, it’s limited by its integration into the parent corporation: the fate of this channel that uses the informational resources of the BBC and subordinates to the British management, depends on the relations between the management of BBC and the British authorities – of which the corporation was unequivocally reminded after excessively bold exposure of the “Iraqi dossier”. This political dependence – weaker than one of the state channels, but still existent – limits the possibilities of BBC in covering the conflicts that are sensitive to the official London. Another limiting factor is the BBC’s role of a broadcaster of British national values and views. As in the case of CNN International, the narrow national association interferes with the viewers’ perception, making the BBC World News “the Voice of London” rather than genuinely international, nationally neutral source of information.
The section “3.2.3 Al Jazeera English” reveals the origins of the initially arabic and then anglophone round-the-clock news service, analyses its current position in the global news sector and the specificity of the “arabic perspective” as an editorial identity. As a timely example of its characteristic approach to covering conflicts was chosen the work of the channel in the period of the so-called “Arab Spring” – the outbursts of civil confrontation in many countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa starting from december 2010. The first six months included revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the civil war and the international intervention in Libya, uprisings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, major disturbances in Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman, as well as anti-government protests in other countries of the region. “Al Jazeera English” plays an important role in shaping a representative, nationally balanced global public sphere by creating a countering stream of information that for the first time brings to the Western audiences the facts and opinions from the World’s less prosperous regions – the Middle East, Africa, South-East Asia. The emergence of the alternative news agenda can serve as a positive factor contributing the understanding and dialogue of civilizations as an alternative to the dark perspective of their clash. The channel attracts a significant international viewership by following the common values of the Western media – the editorial independence and serving the society, in sharp contrast to the regional traditions of the official control over the information. “Al Jazeera English” declares the principles of neutrality and impartiality of coverage, but at the same time postulates its duty to help the deprived masses and in its coverage of violent conflicts shows solidarity with its civil victims and youth movements fighting against oppressing regimes. The generous funding the channel receives from the emir of Quatar allows the editorial staff, from one hand, to focus on journalism quality and to expand its network of bureaus, not caring about profits; from the other hand, the political interests of the emirate may collide with the neutral editorial line, which puts the channel under fire when it’s suspected of suppression of certain topics while exaggerating the others.
Finally, the section “3.2.4 RT” describes the channel that was launched in English on 10 December 2005. RT continues in the satellite sphere the long history of radio broadcasting from Moscow for the foreign audience. The author investigates the political context of the creation of the RT, its modern status and priorities, the principles of the editorial guidelines and the peculiarities of the “Russian perspective” as the channel identity. The study includes various examples of conflict situations covered by the channel that tends to promote insignificant dissenters from the scientific consensus and various conspiracy theorists, and didn’t stop short of open propaganda during the South Ossetian face-off in August 2008. The study concludes that the RT sees its political role not as neutral, but rather a neutralizing one, trying to counterbalance the Western views of the world problems with the Russian view, the generally accepted ideas by more marginal ones, the scientific consensus – by scientifically refuted beliefs. The editorial interpretation of objectivity values promoting the dissenters, especially those challenging the predominant views of the American elites; moreover, the editorial staff doesn’t seem to care much about what is true. Like “Al Jazeera”, RT is state-funded. However, while the Qatar authorities realize the strategic importance of an independent and neutral international media source (compared by them with an atomic bomb that only has a strategic value until it’s been used), RT isn’t concerned about looking biased, consistently reflecting a pro-Russian and anti-American vision of the world. A huge state funding makes it unnecessary for RT to pursue the fastidious decision-making viewership, targeted by the competing channels. Instead, RT pays the providers for the spots in satellite and cable packages, inflating the potential viewership numbers and thus creating an impression of an efficient expenditure of public funds.
In conclusion of the Chapter 3, the author summarizes that while declared editorial principles of the studied channels are similar, their varied realizations in the specific national, financial and political contexts form individual identities of each of the main broadcasters. The editorial internationalization – the developing of a global network of bureaus and broadcasting centers, multi-nationality of the editorial staff – leads to gradual loss of the national roots, neutralizing the importance of the concrete geopolitical foundation and potentially transforming such channels into the cosmopolitan supernational broadcasters of the global public sphere. However, so far most of the leading broadcasting organization rely on national funding, informational infrastructure and political interests, concentrated in the countries of their origin.
A truly international exception of this rule is profoundly researched in “Chapter 4. Case study: the European multilingual TV news channel Euronews”. The direct participation in the implementation of the editorial policy of this channel for more than 10 years allows the author to single out its particular defining factors. First of all, Euronews is not a single-nation company: its shares are divided between the state and public channels of Europe and Mediterranean basin, which prevents any particular shareholder from meddling in the channel operations, ensures financial and political editorial independence. Learning from the experience of this European news channel can be extremely helpful in creating and managing broadcasting organizations that produce content adapted to various target groups of audience.
The section “4.1 The history of the channel” reminds how the creation of Euronews in 1992 became the first successful realization of the idea of a paneuropean news channel, nurtured by the national public broadcasters of Europe since the creation of the European Broadcasting Union in 1950. The author brings examples of the first unsuccessful attempts to create such channels (Euricon, Europa TV), highlights the political motivation behind Euronews creation, studies its experience of overcoming the financial difficulties soon after the beginning of the broadcasting, describes its modernization, the geographical and linguistic expansion, the transition from a predominantly anglo-saxon to genuinely supranational, pan-regional perspective on the world news agenda. The author points special attention to the profound change in the editorial strategy in the early 2010s, when the formerly anonymous Lyon-based channel that avoided to show its journalists on screen and generally relied in its news coverage on the TV agency feeds started its transformation into a global network comparable to the competition – with bureaus in London, Cairo, Doha, Ankara, Paris, Dubai, Washington, Beijing, a second international newsroom in Brussels and an additional local team of journalists in Kiev.
The section “4.2 The current status of the TV channel” analyses the modern organization, distribution and coverage of Euronews, the range of programs and the financial structure. By june 2011, the channel is owned by 21 shareholder companies, with the largest shares belonging to France Televisions (France, 25,37%), RAI (Italy, 22,84%), VGTRK (Russia, 16,94%), TRT (Turkey, 15,70%) и SSR (Switzerland, 9,20%). The shareholders control the general management and formulate the editorial strategy of the channel, but they can’t single-handedly intervene into the daily editorial coverage. Euronews remains one of the leading providers of world news, broadcasting around the clock in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Ukrainian languages via satellite, cable and terrestrial networks. The expanded coverage over all inhabited continents and the launch of the latest language versions reshaped the identity of Euronews as a global channel taking into the account the interests of the audiences distant from its European core viewership. The multilingual broadcasting is the main advantage of Euronews in the Central and Eastern Europe, where, according to the “European Media and Marketing Survey” data, 54% of business and political leaders don’t understand English-language news channels. The successes of Euronews are especially striking when put into perspective of the financial opportunities of the leading international channels: the budget of Euronews (60 million euros) is five times smaller than the budget of BBC World News (300 million euros) and twenty five times smaller than the one of the CNN International (1.6 billion dollars). Euronews combines efficient post-production that supplies most of the news bulletins with special reports, exclusive interviews and various feature programs of its own production – dealing mostly with socio-political, cultural and scientific topics, and generally funded by public bodies or commercial sponsors.
The section “4.3 The target audience of Euronews” describes the “typical viewer” of the channel: he’s 25-59 years old (48% of the audience); it’s usually men (57%) who live in big cities (59%), a third of them live in high-income zones. The core of the audience, most attractive to the advertisers, is the upper class – large business owners, top-managers, high ranking officials in national and international administrations. The core viewer is predominantly male (73%), earning about 55,200 euros a year – the decision-makers, the opinion leaders, influential customers and frequent travelers who make about 10 business trips and 3 recreational trips a year. By June 2011, Euronews evaluates its coverage at 350 million homes in 155 countries. Despite the global coverage, the main audience of Euronews is concentrated in Europe (177,5 million homes). EMS estimates the weekly viewership among high-income Europeans at 7 131 000 viewers (15,4%). That indicator is growing and leaving behind CNN International (6 893 000 viewers, 14,9%), Sky News (6 775 000, 14,6%), BBC World News (5 729 000, 12,7%) and other competing channels: only 900 000 European viewers (1,9%) watch Al Jazeera English, only 441 000 (1% of the EMS sample) watch RT.
The section “4.4 The editorial staff” is dedicated to detailed description of the unique editorial mechanism that defines the identity of this international channel. Before the arrival of the Ukrainian team in summer 2011, Euronews employed about 370 journalists from 20 countries, each speaking on average 3,5 languages. This multiculturality contributes to a competent and impartial coverage of the world events. Significantly, the hierarchy of the channel doesn’t isolate the editorial staff on separate linguistic teams and doesn’t take into account the national origins of the editorial managers.
The section “4.5 The identity of Euronews” analyses the editorial self-perception of the channel: the historical idea of Euronews – an informational integration of Europe – keeps playing the defining role in the selection of news subjects that should first of all respond to the needs and interests of the European audience. The current version of the editorial charter, adopted in december 2006, affirms an exclusively “european”, as opposed to national, perspective in the choice and presentation of the content. The “european identity” which defines broadcasting in all the Euronews languages is the main distinction that differentiates this channel from other national and international broadcasters. The author believes that the supranational editorial strategy helps to prevent conflicts over geopolitical priorities and allows to minimize clichés and stereotypes usual to national media of various countries in their foreign coverage.
The section “4.6 The editorial line of Euronews” describes the complex of the internal documentation defining the norms of the news coverage. It’s noted, in particular, that since the beginning of the broadcasting in 1993 its fundamental principles were the neutrality and independence. The editorial staff, free from any political or economical pressure, doesn’t take sides in the covered conflicts and represents the opposing points of view adequately. The compliance to the editorial standards is being monitored not only by the editorial management, but also by the elected Society of Journalists. The great attention is due in part to the well-understood interests of the channel: as was demonstrated by the unsuccessful initial launch of the Arabic version in 1998, any departure from the common editorial policy threatens to transform the European broadcaster into a mouthpiece of authorities and to provoke internal conflicts, damaging the whole channel.
The section “4.7 The organization of the editorial process” explains the principles of work of editors in the Euronews newsrooms, highlighting the collective contribution to the selection and ranking of the news items. Every story is aired simultaneously in all the 11 languages of Euronews; the individual linguistic versions of the news stories are not translated from a common original, but written in parallel by 11 journalists working in the same newsroom – therefore the news stories in different languages always have the same video but different texts. That allows to adapt the news content for the specific audience of each of the linguistic versions. The study focuses in particular on the analytical department preparing in-depth analysis on the main topic for the evening prime-time broadcasting: unlike the traditional editorials or political commentaries, the Euronews analysis is meant to explain the historical or political contexts without making editorial judgments or conclusions.
As stated in the section “4.8 The coverage of conflicts”, the status of an international TV channel makes it inevitable for Euronews to take the most careful and neutral approach when covering the regional and global conflicts. The neutral editorial line is supported by the international Supervisory board that comprises the main shareholders and doesn’t interact directly with the newsroom. The principles of war coverage are demonstrated on the example of the Euronews bulletins during the bloody confrontation in August 2008 between Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia. As shown by the content analysis, Euronews, which couldn’t send its own reporters into the zone of conflict but had full access to the footage of its Western partners and Russian VGTRK, managed to preserve the neutral editorial line, presenting facts and declarations of the warring sides in an accurate and balanced manner. Significantly, the radical supporters of both camps were dissatisfied with the coverage and blamed Euronews for perceived bias against them.
At the same time, the author demonstrates several vulnerabilities in the editorial mechanics of Euronews that can potentially compromise the channel’s neutrality in covering the conflicts – such as the risk of broadcasting news subjects without hierarchical approval: all the editors write and voice over their stories without supervision, which, as shown on the examples, increases the threat of individual errors or subjectivity.
Another risk is politization of sponsored programs, which should be reduced by strict rules currently adopted by the channel in this regard. However, many of the feature stories produced in cooperation with national and international organizations makes journalists question the neutrality of such coverage.
Yet another potential threat reviewed in the study is the increasing reliance on unconfirmed sources, such as amateur video published online – so called “citizen journalism”. The editorial staff is called to extreme prudence in using such sources, but the intensifying competition between main broadcasters puts each of them at risk of spreading false propaganda.
The section “4.9 Contextuality of the neutrality of Euronews” contains the observation data on the perception of the channel’s content by the radical partisans of the opposing political camps. As expected, the range of opinions seems to support the “hostile media effect”.
For instance, the radical liberals, opposed to the current regime, regard the neutral coverage of Russian political developments as a betrayal of journalistic values: they believe in the duty of the free press to criticize the governments, leading the fight for truth, freedom and justice. Many of such viewers believe that Euronews is censored by the Kremlin – at least the Russian version that, like others, tends to be manifestly neutral when informing about conflicts that are sensitive to its core audience.
From the opposite side, the radical nationalists are outraged by any mention of Russia in negative context. Such viewers, who deeply mistrust Europe and believe in its hostile intentions, regard the channel as a cold war-style propaganda tool financed by the West to demoralize and defame Russian viewers.
The emotions of the viewers become especially polarized during the acute conflicts – like the above-mentioned South Ossetian confrontation: the parts of the audience who supported Russian or Georgian actions came to opposite conclusions about the perceived bias of the European news channel. The author suggests that such similarly negative reactions of all the opposing parties may serve an indicator of a real balance of conflict coverage.
In Discussion and conclusions, the author indicates that the modern stage of the evolution of transnational news broadcasting seems to support his hypothesis: in the modern technological, political and economical environment the leading channels actively pursue their target audience by leaning towards political and national neutrality of their editorial identities, continuing the transition of the global news ecosystem from the bipolar confrontation to a multipolar public sphere. A perception of an international news channel as neutral by the elite viewership seems to benefit its distribution and audience share, providing an advantage in the aggravating struggle for existence on the transnational news arena. Politically committed channels, firmly tied to their national origins and ideological perspectives, may be popular among the general audience but fail to win significant viewership among the lucrative international decision-makers who dislike tendentiousness in the information.
However, all the leading channels operate in their national, political and financial contexts that shape their distinctive individual identities, making the notion of an editorial neutrality a subjective guideline that gets divergent interpretations in the newsrooms and within the audience. Extreme circumstances – such as military conflicts – often undermine the pre-eminence of impartiality, compelling the researchers to conclude that genuine media neutrality is de-facto impossible.
The author suggests that more research is needed to compare relative attractiveness of neutral and partizan editorial strategies in the increasingly saturated transnational news sphere. It would be important to understand whether the top-income global audience of decision-makers will keep preferring a small number of nationally neutral global channels or embrace the emerging variety of smaller news broadcasters presenting narrow national or regional perspectives. Another pressing issue is the comparative commercial viability of targeting the marginal elite audience worldwide versus addressing specific groups of the general audience with a politically filtered content that reflects their own views and beliefs.