‘ Again, my analysis will consider whether all people have an equal right to participate in both capacities. The explanations outlined above provide a means whereby it is possible to investigate whether a global public sphere is emergent in the news. However, it is first important to outline the news production process. The news is supposed to be objective and neutral and is often described as ‘a window on the world’ but this can be misleading. The news is a complex and bias process therefore in order to discuss the possibility of a global public sphere in respect of global news; it is valuable to define the key term itself.
Although the proper definition of news is ‘new information about events’ the real meaning of the term in our society is rather different. News has come to mean information which has been collected, shaped and then passed on or reported by professional, profit-making organizations. The extent to which perceptions of news and the role of the media have changed, is revealed in the contrast between the work of Franklin, who sets ‘entertainment’ against the more desirable ‘news and information’, and the perspective found in with John Fiske.
Fiske attacked what was then an established idea: the notion that news is somehow factual or ‘objective’. Speaking of television he wrote that ‘the basic definition of news as factual information… gives us only half the story’10. In other words Fiske objected not to sensation dressed up as news, but the idea of news as ‘fact’. Fiske goes on to speak of ‘norms’, a set of values which ’embody the ideology of the dominant classes. ’11 This point of view casts the news organization in a certain role-as the servant of the dominant forces in society.
News is therefore, a reflection or embodiment of dominant interests and values. Television news is made via a routine production process through news selection and news values. ‘News values’ derive from the ideas or assumptions which form the ideological background to the work of the journalist and the news editor. O’Sullivan et, al define news values as ‘The professional codes used in the selection, construction and presentation of news stories in corporately produced mainstream press and broadcasting. ’12 News values have been categorized by a number of writers.
Mcshane sets out five central tenets which journalists are likely to follow in their news-gathering operations. These are ‘conflict, danger to the community, the unusual, scandal and individualism’. Dutton produced a list of twelve of the most significant news values. The list may be summarized as follows: Frequency, this refers to something Dutton calls ‘the time span taken by the event’. He cites the example of murders, which happen suddenly and whose meaning is established quickly. The murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells is a prime example of this news value.
The threshold or amplitude of an event refers to its size, the bigger the event, the better. There is a threshold below which an event will fail to be considered worthy of attention, and will not be reported. The more clear cut and uncomplicated an event the better, Dutton calls this ‘Unambiguity’. Although events do not have to be simple, the range of possible meanings they are able to generate must remain limited. In this way the event will be accessible to the public. Meaningfulness is an important news value. Dutton divides this into two categories, following Galtung and Ruge, who called this news value ‘Familiarity’.
The first category is cultural proximity in which the event agrees of a specific culture. The second is relevance, where events will be reported and discussed if they seem to have an impact on the ‘home’ culture. This impact is usually represented in terms of some type of threat. The threat of terrorism is a current issue after the September 11th attacks which changed the world. Britain and the USA are close alliances and so this story was culturally significant to the British and also to people all over the world.
Audiences are interested in events which contain reference to the values, beliefs and attitudes that it shares therefore, Ideology plays an important part in the construction of news. The meaningfulness of an event is linked closely to another news value, the reference to elite nations. Elections, natural disasters, wars and other significant events are more likely to be reported in the western press if they occur in the developed world. In terms of the September 11th attacks, the event automatically qualified as important news because importance was given to the number of deaths aswell as the country in which the event occurred.
This is an example of events having to attain a certain ‘threshold’. Unexpectedness operates through the categories of the meaningful and the consonant. The rarity of an event leads to its circulation in the public domain, the story in which a woman was pregnant with eight babies or the boy who gave birth to his twin are key examples of sensationalism in the news. Similarly, negativity refers to the idea that ‘bad news is good news’. Audiences will flock to a story that has shock value but ignore one which is routine.
Audiences are held by the dramatic power of the tragic narrative. to use the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells once again, the girls were very young and were taken advantage of by someone or people they trusted. The human interest angle is an important way of making events palatable or comprehensible to audiences. The story of the girl’s murders achieved importance in the news, just as the murder of Millie Dowler and therefore were both covered for some time on television and in the press and this refers to the news value of continuity.
Composition refers to the idea that most news outlets attempt to balance the reporting of events, so in terms of composition if there has been a great deal of bad news, some items of a more positive nature will be added, for example the birth of a child in the royal family. This links to the reference to elite persons in the news. The famous and the powerful are often treated as being of greater importance than those who are regarded as ordinary, in the sense that their decisions and actions are supposed to affect large numbers of people.