Semiotic Analysis of the News

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Semiotic analysis of the news
Television news has been around for nearly as long as television itself. Millions watch it every day and it is often the first programme someone will switch to after work. News broadcast are governed by many codes and conventions. These are not always obvious to the viewer but if they are not respected, the programme might feel uncomfortable to watch. Bignell (2002), p110, explains “The discourse of television news is composed of language and visual images, organised by codes and conventions which the news viewer has to perceive and recognise in order for the viewer to construct sense”. News bulletin are therefore constructed in a careful manner, carrying many signs. I will look at some of these in this essay. The news bulletin also needs to remain impartial in order to be trusted and respected by the audience.

Whilst analyzing the BBC News at 10 aired on Monday 5th of March, I will try and demonstrate this web of codes and convention. I will also look at the signs present in the news and their meanings. Finally, I will explore the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity. I will concentrate on the first two stories of the bulletin. The first report is about the ongoing uprising in Syria and takes a deeper look at the families fleeing the war zone and the developing humanitarian crisis. The second package is about the government proposals to remove child benefits from anyone earning over £40.000.

I will start by exploring the codes of the news bulletin, highlighting the items that make a news programme instantly recognizable from any other shows. Fiske (1987), p4, defines a code as “a rule-governed system of signs, whose rules and conventions are shared amongst members of culture, and which is used to generate and circulate meanings in and for that culture”.

The first visual code is the news presenter Huw Edwards, smartly dressed, he gives a sense of knowledge, seriousness and authority to the news. He is the narrator, providing a link between the different items and contributes to the stability of the programme. He brings the feeling of importance to the news but also provides a friendly face that the public recognize and trust. On BBC news, they are the first person that the viewer sees. His appearance is preceded by a loud percussion noise which also reinforces his importance.

Other visual codes include the desk at which the presenter sits and the still images showed on a backdrop. This adds to the feeling of authority. The programme always starts with the headlines. This gives the programme structure, telling the viewer what to expect. This format is there to keep the viewer interested, showing selected visual and sound bites from the upcoming news reports, teasing the viewer, making them want to know more. Another code is the way the presenter addresses the viewer, looking directly at them through the camera, using personal pronouns and a formal grammar predominantly used in news programmes.

The opening title sequence is another conventional code present at the beginning of every programme. The graphics displayed are reinforcing the importance of the news and the music is loud and sounds important. The ticking clock reinforces the notion that this is a live programme, dealing with actuality. The final reinforcement of authority comes in the form of the BBC logo that has a strong connotative meaning of accuracy and professionalism.

When analysing each individual item in the news, there are further conventions found in the way they are presented. Hartley (1987), p118-119, explains that each story “has the following four narrative moments: Framing, focusing, realising and closing”. The first item of the news bulletin, dealing with the Syrian uprising clearly reveals these four moments. Edwards (2012), BBC News at 10, introduces the report saying ”People who have escaped from the Syrian city of Homs have told the BBC of atrocities being committed by the...
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