PERSUASION AND MANIPULATION MECHANISMS IN TELEVISION NEWS
The International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE is an event where many interesting workshops about the different aspects of the current audiovisual world take place. During 23rd edition one of them will be:
Persuasion and manipulation
mechanisms in television news
From all the information flooding the Internet and news agencies every day, how do you choose what is really important, who decides what is broadcast, how does one know what can be omitted? How is information on television developed, what are its verbal and visual codes, what influences the order in which information is presented? What is the relationship between language and image, which communication channel—auditory or visual—is more important? What is the relationship between visual aesthetics and the ethics of expression? Finally, what role does the context of information play and what is the role of the viewer, and who ultimately ‘writes’ the text of the information on TV?
As an author, reporter, and chief editor at various newsrooms with many years of experience, I can say that images in the media which symbolically represent reality tend to be equated with reality itself, which makes the average recipient perceive news programmes not as artificial, standardized structures, but as an acceptable reality. It leads to a basic misconception: treating the flow of information as knowledge about reality, which is harmful for the latter. That is why I claim that there is no pure information on television; news is always prepared, sometimes created, and often manipulated.
The most important argument is the image, sufficiently dramatized, edited, powerful—one that evokes the reaction: “It’s clearly visible!” It functions as evidence, which, as Chaïm Perelman points out, does not require argumentation, because it actually is argumentation. In the contemporary media the image has in some ways taken over the position of truth.
In practice, there are three operations used on television which shape information in a definite way: reduction, transformation, and deformation. The first two operations have always been present—each topic needs to be reduced so that it is digestible; it cannot be too complex, or the average recipient will not be able to understand it (it is impossible to go back to a part of news on TV like to a paragraph in a newspaper). Every story has to be told using film language, and therefore needs to be transformed to the standards of the given medium, which in this case is television. The last operation—deformation—has never been employed on a scale as large as it is nowadays, since no appropriate technical resources were available in the past. The whole TV setting makes us perceive information with a clear discrepancy—on one hand we are provided with a perfect illusion of consistency with reality created by the technical “objectiveness” (“It’s clearly visible!”), while on the other hand information is a result of its author’s intentionality or creativity, of which we are not always aware.
As Stanisław Barańczak claims in his evaluation of the rhetorical repertoire of popular culture—the contemporary information on television involves all mechanisms accounting for the persuasiveness of text: appealing to emotions, sharing one world and one language, simplification of the system of values, and perception without alternatives. And the role of the dominant persuasive element is played by the image.
Jacek Skorus, graduate of the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Radio and Television of the University of Silesia, TVP journalist for 35 years, PhD in linguistics. Specializes in persuasive communication, his main academic interests include the impact of visual rhetoric on television news. Author of reportages and documents, and editor-in-chief of the news program Panorama on TVP2 for six years.