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  • A much cited model of media communication , i.e. of mass communication, hence the terms such as ‘circulation’.Draw on board , sender receiver model. This assumes that what is sent is received as if the medium is a tunnel down which the message slides simply to be picked up by the receiver.Each part of the model is described as a moment. So for example production is the ‘moment of encoding’. Hall says these various aspects are linked but separate moments in the circuit of communication.Hall’s model here is different. Hall uses the terms encoding and decoding very deliberately. Production encodes some aspect of the world into a discursive form – this could be words, still images, moving images, sign language, etc. So with our polar bear example, nature in its raw state has been ‘encoded’ turned into a discursive form consisting of moving images, a voice over, a soundtrack and an audio track. These discursive forms circulate in society. They are available as films in cinemas, television, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, twitter feeds, etc. Through distribution they find their way to audiences. What happens at the moment of consumption? What do we mean by consumption? Which describes the process more accurately? Making meaning from a text? Getting meaning from a text? i.e. where is the meaning? In the text, or the reader or both?From http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem08c.html - “Corner adds that the moment of encoding and that of decoding 'are socially contingent practices which may be in a greater or lesser degree of alignment in relation to each other but which are certainly not to be thought of... as 'sending' and 'receiving' linked by the conveyance of a 'message' which is the exclusive vehicle of meaning' (Corner 1983, pp. 267-8).Also from http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem08c.html - In the context of semiotics, 'decoding' involves not simply basic recognition and comprehension of what a text 'says' but also the interpretation and evaluation of its meaning with reference to relevant codes.Audiences deocde these circulating messages. The key word is decode or interpret. Through meaning interpretations that also circulate in a society. Texts cannot exist independently of cultural meanings. Otherwise their could be no interpretation.. “No meaning … no consumption” (hall 1994, p.201)What does reproduction here mean? Meanings entering social practices in the distribution/consumption moments are then available as social practices for producers. Don’t think of this as happening overnight. We are not talking about little groups of producers and receivers in separate places. We need to think of society as one production and reception context where producers take from and add to existing cultural meanings in processes of production.
  • In this session first we are going to look at the first half of this model, going from the discursive practices of tv news (i.e the encoding of reality into tv news discourse) and then consider what we mean by ‘meaningful discourse’ in the circulation part. Then we are going to consider what we mean by ‘decoding’ using the examples of TV news.
  • Meaning of “due impartiality”:“Due” is an important qualification to the concept of impartiality. Impartiality itself means not favouring one side over another. “Due” means adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme. So “due impartiality” does not mean an equal division of time has to be given to every view, or that every argument and every facet of every argument has to be represented. The approach to due impartiality may vary according to the nature of the subject, the type of programme and channel, the likely expectation of the audience as to content, and the extent to which the content and approach is signalled to the audience. Context, as defined in Section Two: Harm and Offence of the Code, is important.News organizations now stretch across television and web delivery with tightly integrated content in the form of individual pieces appearing on the website integrated into written storiesBBC one – 6pmBBC Four – 7pmChannel four – 7pmITV (regional) -6pmBBC News – rollingSky News – 6pm and 8pm
  • What codes of encoding are needed by producers in order to create trust in the news that viewers are wathcing? In other words how can preferred meanings be most likely encouraged?“Any society/culture tends, with varying degrees of closure, to impose its classifications of the social and cultural and political world. These constitute a dominant cultural order … the different areas of social life appear to be mapped out into discursive domains, hierarchically organized into dominant or preferred meanings” (Hall 1973)
  • See Bignell (2002) pages 110 onward and my notes in ‘LZ411 13-14 the construction of tv news notes.doc’Mythic meanings are:ImmediacyAuthorityBalance and objectivity
  • 9 october 2007 - Screenwipe series 4 episode 3 - In this television news special, Brooker talks about the need to entertain on the news and also the rise of 24 hour news. Adam Curtis talks about the rise and fall of the television journalist. (13 minutes 30 seconds)Note the point about that TV news (like print news) does not consist of lists of facts but each item is a narrative report of an event. There are narrators (anchors and reporters), there are characters, there are events and consequences of events on and by characters.
  • Structuring the ‘ambiguity of reality’ through visual and aural codes in a way to construct a particular news version of‘reality’“TV cannot transmit ‘raw historical‘ events as such, to its audiences: it can only transmit pictures of, stories, informative talk or discussion about, the events it selectively treats”. The world is chaotic but we bring a resemblance of order to it through the way we narrate it to ourselves. i.e. a culture has its own stock of stories, images, ways of relating what’s going on. TV news is a part of this storying, it both reflects known cultural storylines but also has its own particular stock of storying techniques. In genre terms it has its own structuring devices of reality what happened or is happening.Relating stories through ‘conventional subject-categories’ to flag up how a particular story is to be classified – “even though events often have very wide-ranging effects in different places an don different groups of people, the placing of news reports in coded discursive categories producers the mythic meaning that news events are unique but are significant in the terms of only one discursive code” (Bignell 2022: 117)In the examples we are going to watch – what other possible categories of news stories could each story have been placed in? What is the significance of this categorisation? “how does it naturalise the mythic meanings proposed and preculte decoding the news story from laternative points of view”? (ibid)Framing (bignell p.117. allen p74) – how is the event meant to be understood? What context is announced (in the headline, by narration, through the news anchor) as the means by which the event is meant to be understood? What alternative framings are therefore excluded? What is the definition of a situation? What is selected as being partiuculary important? What is made salient? SELECTION AND SALIENCEQUOTE FROM ENTMAN 1993 CITED IN ALLEN (2010: 76) – “FRAMING ESSENTIALLY INVOLVES SELECTION AND SALIENCE. TO FRAME IS TO SELET SOME ASPECTS OF PERCEIVED REALITY AND MAKE THEM MORE SALIENT IN THE COMMUNICATING TEXT, IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PROMOTE A PARTICULAR PROBLEM DEFINITION, CAUSAL INTERPRETATION, MORAL EVALUATION AND/OR TREATMENT RECOMMENDATION FOR THE ITEM DESCRIBED. FREAMES, THEN, DEFINE PROBLEMS – DETERMINE WHAT A CAUSAL AGENT IS DOING AND COSTS AND BENEFITS, USALLY MEASURE IN TERMS OF CULTURAL VALUES; DIAGNOSE CAUSES – IDENTITY THE FORCES CREATING THE PROBLEM; MAKE MORAL JUDGEMENTS – EVALUATE CAUSAL AGENTS AND THEIR EFFECTS; AND SUGGEST REMEDIES – OFFER AND JUSTIFY TREATMENTS OF THE PROBLEM AND PREDICT THEIR LIKELY EFFECTS”Focussing – “the topic is focused by reporters and correspondents, who are institutional voices. … explaining the significance indetial drawing out issues in the news storyRealising – lending authenticity confirming as real. Actuality footage, interviews, accessed voices. These choices will be used to confirm the frame and focus already chosen but will appear to be naturally evidence of what happened really happened. Note that voiceover/reporter speak often offers itself as an anchor to the visuals.Closing – the means by which a preferred meaning is encouraged. E.g. discounting alternative points of view (or excluding them), repeating and insisting a particular view.. This occurs not only at the end but throughout. The additional means is the way that visual and verbal syntagms are used. Specifically voice over or captioning will anchor particular meanings. Interviews will be constructed as if it is an informed viewer asking the questions. (see Bignell 119-120)
  • Newswipe February 2010 – season 2 episode 3 – The Haitian earthquake. Representation of a disaster. Beginning to the part about ‘god arriving’ (simon cowell). About 7.5 minutes.
  • In this session first we are going to look at the first half of this model, going from the discursive practices of tv news (i.e the encoding of reality into tv news discourse) and then consider what we mean by ‘meaningful discourse’ in the circulation part. Then we are going to consider what we mean by ‘decoding’ using the examples of TV news.
  • cultural studies approachnews not a reflection of reality but a representation of a preferred ‘map of social reality’ (an ideological construction)hegemony - the ideological struggle over ‘common sense’
  • "The domains of 'preferred meanings' have the whole social order embedded in them as a set of meanings, practices and beliefs: the everyday knowledge of social structures, of 'how things work for all practical purposes in this culture', the rank order of power and interest and the structure of legitimations, limits and sanctions."[1]As Hall states, "decoding within the negotiated version contains a mixture of adaptive and oppositional elements: it acknowledges the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations (abstract), while, at a more restricted, situational (situated) level, it makes its own ground rules- it operates with exceptions to the rule" [1] In this position a viewer/reader understands the intended meaning, but due to sociological variables (the background of the viewer/reader) the readers' social situation has placed them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code, and although they understand the intended meaning they do not share the text's code and end up rejecting it.[2] 
  • Why was the environmental group so upset? The ‘meaning structures’ of the environmental group didn’t match those of the producers of Planet Earth. (in that segment at least)One of these is to depict animals as human beings with ‘lives’ (as humans experience them), feelings, attachments etc. Another might be that watching animals in film (on a Sunday night) is pleasureable and political statements about climate change should be avoided. There’s a nice and cosy reassuring feel to the piece through the use of narration, music and narrative imagery (i.e. telling a familiar story) that de-emphasises realities of polar bear life.“the domains of ‘preferred meanings’ have the whole social order embedded in them as a set of meanings, practices and beliefs” (Hall 1994:207)
  • Also points about decoding. i.e. bignell 2002 124 onwards. Attentiveness and actual involvement with any one news programme? Is complete decoding actually possible?


  • 1. LZ411 – Critical Media theory Semiotic analysis of TV News Aims today … •To continue using Stuart Hall’s ‘encoding and decoding’ model – specifically ‘decoding’ •To look at interpretations of TV news as ‘timely’, ‘authoritative’ and ‘believable’
  • 2. The discursive practices of TV News • What are the ways that meanings are structured in the circuit of communication? circulation Production of news texts Consumption of news texts reproduction Stuart Hall Cultural Theorist Encoding-Decoding model
  • 3. The circuit of news communication Circulation Raw material - the natural world (un-organised, nondiscursive event) The TV news as ‘meaningful discourse’ Knowledge of the way news works Knowledge of the particular TV news channel Production Consumption Cultural ‘decoding’ Cultural ‘encoding’ Production knowledge Social knowledge „maps of meaning‟ in the production context Reproduction Cultural meanings Social knowledge „maps of meaning‟ in the „reception context‟
  • 4. UK TV News – Political Context Regulations (OFCOM and BBC Trust) ‘Due impartiality’ OFCOM – “To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”. BBC – “News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always 4 reflect our editorial values, including our
  • 5. Analysing the construction of TV News “What you about to view is important and actually happened in the way we say it happened” 1) How do producers „win the assent‟ of the audience to try to convince them of the above? 2) How are certain definitions of reality discursively made legitimate in TV news stories? i.e. what are the specific storying techniques of TV news? 5
  • 6. Mythic meanings of TV News Myth – a mode of communication whereby particular meanings are made to appear obvious/ common-sense/natural/real whereas in fact they are cultural/constructed/social/historical TV News „mythic meanings‟: a)It is immediate/live/relevant now/New! b)It is believable and authoritative (our account carries weight. Things really happened the way we said they did) c)It is balanced and objective
  • 7. Charlie Brooker‟s Screenwipe Screenwipe (se04 ep03 – Oct 2007) 7
  • 8. Storying the (TV) news Representing events through „narrative functions‟ 1) 2) 3) 4) Framing Focusing Realising Closing 8
  • 9. Examples from Newswipe 2010 9
  • 10. The circuit of news communication Circulation Raw material - the natural world (un-organised, nondiscursive event) The TV news as ‘meaningful discourse’ Knowledge of the way news works Knowledge of the particular TV news channel Production Consumption Cultural ‘decoding’ Cultural ‘encoding’ Production knowledge Social knowledge „maps of meaning‟ in the production context Reproduction Cultural meanings Social knowledge „maps of meaning‟ in the „reception context‟
  • 11. How cuddly is this polar bear? Planet Earth – BBC 1 March 2006 Some reactions to the show…
  • 12. Encoding/decoding the natural world Planet Earth (the text) (meaningful narration about the natural world) viewer decodes (polysemy but not pluralism)
  • 13. Decoding positions 1)Dominant-hegemonic best fit between codes of encoding and decoding 2) Negotiated agreement with dominant definitions about the world but some specific disagreements 3) Oppositional complete lack of equivalence between encoding and decoding codes
  • 14. Decoding positions - Planet Earth 1)Dominant-hegemonic •the programme is a compelling accurate description of the world – the documentary genre informs and entertains – producers‟ view? 2) Negotiated •nature programmes inform and entertain but some specific inaccuracies in the way certain animals/situations were depicted. E.g. Annoying music!! – some viewers 3) Oppositional •environmental porn! – article 13 environmental group
  • 15. Preferred meanings • In other words Planet Earth has been„encoded‟ according to the „dominant cultural order‟ and therefore certain ways of decoding („reading‟) Planet Earth are more likely than others. • Oppositional readings are always possible. • As analysts we may not always agree on what are preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings. Texts are polysemic (but not completely open to interpretation)
  • 16. Encoding/decoding - problems •encoding – is it actually possible to analyse the encoding of a media text to determine its preferred meaning •decoding – are there such simple ways that people „decode‟ media texts – what about ironic readings, willing suspension of disbelief etc. •decoding variables – Morley‟s study (based on Hall) presumes class/occupation as a defining sociological variable. Is it still applicable? Any other variables?
  • 17. Conclusion • TV News presents socially constructed views of events. Viewers are encouraged to read news as up-to-date, authoritative, credible, balanced and objective. • Decodings are variable but not unlimited. Hall suggests three hypothetical „reading positions‟ 17
  • 18. TV News examples to discuss in seminars • How are the mythic meanings of immediacy, authority and objectivity encoded? • How is each story framed, focused, realised and closed? • What are possible decoding („reading‟) positions for the stories? 18
  • 19. References Allan, S. (1998) News from NowHere: Televisual news discourse and the construction of hegemony. In A. Bell and P. Garrett (eds.) Approaches to media discourse Oxford: Blackwell. Allan, S. (2000) News culture Buckingham: Open University Press Bignell, J. (2002) Media semiotics An introduction Manchester: Manchester university press Chapter 5 Hall, S. (1973) Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham 19