Media Discourse Analysis – Final CA
Aidan Carney – D00143480
TV3 Vs RTÉ – 2015 Marriage Referendum
For this CA I have chosen the Public Service Broadcaster RTÉ’s and the Commercial Broadcaster TV3’s coverage of the Marriage Referendum from 2015. Over the course of this essay, I will be analysing and comparing both stations coverage of the Referendum and comparing and contrasting them, while keeping in mind the question of – “Can the news media continue to act as producers of meaning whilst remaining within the structure of formal rules about impartiality”. I will be looking at the following four theories and topics in relation to this comparative analysis; which we have also covered in class: The Representation of Real, Newsworthiness, Conversational Language in Media and Encoded Messages. Robert Greenwald’s documentary on Fox News will also be applicable here though I will not be devoting it a section of its own. Before I begin, I will start by referencing and showing the two videos which I’ve found and then begin analysing them under the four topics I’ve chosen, before finally concluding with an answer to the question above.
TV3 Vs RTÉ
Currently, there exists very little footage on YouTube pertaining to coverage of the 2015 marriage referendum. I did, however, manage to find two videos of suitable length for this comparative analysis. The first is of TV3’s own Vincent Browne announcing the result of the referendum in the George to the fanfare of those behind him (TV3 Ireland, 2015). The second video is of multiple ‘Vox Pop’ style interviews between members of the voting public and a member of RTÉ following the result of the Referendum (RTÉNewsNow, 2015). TV3’s video is only 2 minutes long while RTÉ’s video is 3 minutes long. Both videos are shot very differently and feature different elements of the four topics which I am analysing them under.
The Representation of Real
In both cases, the representation of the Yes vote being incredibly important is portrayed to viewers. However, there is a discourse in how TV3 are representing the Yes vote, where Vincent Browne is in a pub surrounded by young faces who burst into celebration when the vote comes through. This is in stark contrast to the way in which RTÉ had decided to represent the result of the vote, by performing multiple Vox Pop style interviews with members of the LGBT community and presenting it as a ‘news story’ rather than an event (Talbot, M., 2007, P 18). RTÉ’s representation is formal, by-the-book and includes famous faces such as TD’s, Panti-Bliss and other Irish celebrities
So what is the real representation of this story and what is the fake? How can we decode these videos into what they really are? Well first, is this event a pseudo-event or a real event (Boorstin, D.J., 2012)? Would these people still be out if there were no cameras? Would Vincent Browne still be in the pub hosting a results party? With RTÉ, there are elements of a real event taking place here with no pseudo intentions; these people would still be out celebrating regardless of the presence of cameras. However, TV3’s results party is a mixture of a pseudo-event and a real event. Regardless of TV3’s presence, those people would still be celebrating but Vincent Browne would not be there if it weren’t for TV3’s camera. Both broadcasters are monopolising on the massive amount of celebrations taking place across the country by arriving and pointing a camera. The news event itself is over by the time the cameras arrive (i.e: the actual vote) so the broadcasters are only here for footage of the happy celebrations to portray the reality that this result has made everyone incredibly happy, which by my understanding at the time was everyone’s feeling on the matter; happiness. The videos only serve to put fuel on the fire of the happiness on the result, nearly urging people to be happy for the yes vote. Neither video shows the real version of the story, though TV3’s results ‘party’ focuses on one set piece for longer than RTÉ’s barrage of Vox Pops which barely show the reality of the situation.
The preferred meaning behind both of these videos is that everyone is happy about the result of the referendum. By showing multiple demographics of people (age, ethnicity, sexual preference) celebrating, the viewing audience is decoding that voting yes was the right thing to do, which, of course, it most definitely was. Regardless of the reality presented to the viewer, the preferred meaning of the footage is, in my opinion, the right meaning to be showing audiences. Of course, RTÉ had to have opinions from both sides of the matter but regardless of that, the footage still aims to show their viewership that yes was the right vote. In brief, TV3 shows a better reality because they focus on one aspect of the results for longer, rather than going down the ‘traditional’ news reporting route via barrages of Vox Pops and celebrity opinions.
In regards to newsworthiness, I believe the story is very newsworthy. At the time it dominated most of the Irish Broadcasters opening segments. However, in regards to the 5 points of Newsworthiness (What Makes a Story Newsworthy?, 2017), we can see that the story is actually quite newsworthy. The story satisfies all 5 points and is thus newsworthy enough to warrant a result show from one of TV3’s most loved faces and the presence of RTÉ at the celebrations in Dublin. TV3 however, were more concerned with the Proximity, Significance and Human Interest of the story rather than RTÉ who spent a significant amount of their time interviewing TDs and celebrities for the Prominence angle rather than the other four points mentioned previously. The result being yes, especially for this referendum would have been paramount to cover for all major broadcasters, seeing as Ireland was the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. That in itself would have made this story newsworthy enough for any broadcaster and the story was even picked up by Sky News at the time who also have many videos on YouTube of the story.
This is in stark contrast to the Irish Broadcasters who have very little footage on YouTube or on archive in relation to the referendum. The two videos I’ve found were very much the bottom of the barrel in relation to the news story I picked, which connotes a feeling of disregard for the result in the grand scheme of Irish history. It is no doubt that the result was a monumental push forward for bringing Ireland into the 21st century. However, so little footage remains online of the actual result that it almost feels like Irish broadcasters are trying to hide their coverage of the vote. Of course, this is only my speculation on the lack of footage available on YouTube.
In any case, it is no doubt that both broadcasters prioritised this story for its inherent newsworthiness though both broadcasters went about covering it in different manners, as discussed in the section above. I feel that RTÉ and TV3 were always going to cover this story, regardless of the vote, though TV3 does make the effort to try and get the viewer involved, i.e: by using the impending result as a reason to throw a party and show members of the LGBT community having a celebration for finally being granted marriage rights. This story was an excellent way to ensure the viewership of many Irish citizens and thus ensure that ad companies sponsoring these broadcasters were getting their money’s worth. Money is the reason newsworthiness is essential and the reason why broadcasters cover news in the first place, in order to generate ad revenue. Both broadcasters knew that the result would garner a huge response from all Irish citizens and thus focused on it to ensure their revenue streams were safe.
Conversational Language in Media
I have no doubt in my mind that TV3 actively decided to use the most informal manner of reporting on the result of the referendum, by having Vincent Browne in a pub, surrounded by supporters of the yes vote. In the clip referenced below, Vincent speaks with a very informal tone to the point where he is lost for words at the result, mentioning that Gay Ireland had to hide away for so long. Vincent then joins in with the crowd, chanting “Ole…” which is totally out of character for any news presenter, even at an informal results show such as the one referenced below. The whole broadcast is more of a celebration, rather than an actual news program in contradiction to traditional news broadcasting methods. Did Vincent incite the crowd to begin chanting? No, of course, he didn’t. Did TV3 stage the broadcast to be in a place where celebrations were likely to erupt into chanting? Perhaps. The key thing to take away from Vincent’s language and jubilation are that this is a momentous occasion for all Irish people regardless of sexual preference and this is the message being encoded by Vincent and the overall production by TV3.
RTÉ, on the other hand, presents a very formal and traditional news broadcast about the result of the referendum. Laura Fletcher keeps her composure throughout the entire segment without bursting into jubilation herself, unlike TV3’s Vincent Browne. The interviewees speak with a very informal and ‘hearty Irish’ voice, perhaps in an attempt to show viewers that this affects all Irish people and not just members of the LGBT community. The word ‘history’ is also mentioned by Laura, denoting that this referendum is also of great significance to Irish culture (Hartley, J., 2013, P 82). The video claims to have members of both sides of the vote speaking but Laura never announces this to the viewer. This denotes a conscious decision to not include or give time to members of the ‘no’ vote by Laura and the RTÉ editor of the video.
In brief, TV3’s reality and RTÉ’s reality of this event are very much the same, though they have both opted to use different styles of broadcasting to send their message which boils down to: RTÉ – Formal, TV3 – Informal.
There is a huge bias towards the yes side in both videos that I have picked. With Vincent celebrating along with the crowd in the George, and Laura not declaring that both sides were having their say in RTÉ’s video on the subject matter. It is apparent that both TV3 and RTÉ have picked a side, regardless their own personal agendas. This may be due to the controversial nature of the referendum and the fact that they may have wanted to cover their own backs per se, as opposed to going against the public’s predefined opinion on the matter. The messages being encoded by both videos show that this referendum, and the result of which, will have a positive impact on Ireland and its people as a whole. In reality, both broadcasters could have kept a neutral stance on the matter but both have decided to pick a side, one hundred percent, over the other.
The messages being encoded in both videos show a biased reality where the yes vote will be nothing but good for Ireland and that Ireland should celebrate the ‘historic’ feeling of the referendum’s result. That is not to say that this is what should, or should have, been done. Of course, my stance on the matter is mute (I did infect vote yes), it is still up to the news media (in a perfect world) to present both sides of the argument in equal measures which none of the two decided to do, in both videos.
To conclude and answer the question posed to me; in light of the two videos I analysed under the four headings above, I believe that there is no way the news media can provide meaning whilst also remaining impartial. In both cases, TV3 and RTÉ had picked their side before the result of the vote had been announced, partially to go along with public opinion and thus save themselves from backlash and also to ensure that their revenue streams of paid advertisements were protected (Curtis, A.R., 2012, P 4). Had both stations toted the no vote as the right thing to do, they would have lost the majority of their viewership as most of Ireland felt that the yes vote was essential. By becoming so involved with the yes side, so far as to put Vincent Browne in the George hosting the results show and Laura Fletcher refusing to acknowledge another side to the ‘coin’, TV3 and RTÉ, regardless of their own agendas, failed to remain impartial and thus became biased producers of meaning.
In regard to the comparative analysis; due to RTÉ’s traditional take on the matter, I feel that they were the least biased in regard to the subject matter. TV3 on the other hand, dove straight into one side and refused to even acknowledge that their was even a ‘no’ side. Without sounding like a broken record; putting Vincent Browne in an openly ‘yes’ establishment and joining in with the coinciding celebrations is a declaration that TV3 are openly siding with the ‘yes’ vote, rather than even acknowledging the presence of the other side of the ‘coin’, much like what Laura Fletcher did in her segment with RTÉ. In this regard, TV3 is the more biased of the two broadcasters.
To finally put this analysis to bed; there was no way either broadcaster could remain neutral or retain any form of impartiality given the controversial subject matter, but even without the topic of the gay marriage referendum, both stations have their own agendas that they wish to push forward and this has never been any secret amongst the media savvy. Like all news media, regardless of their public service or commercial nature, are run for the sake of money, profits and riches. While RTÉ and TV3 may not be as harsh as Fox News in their methods (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, 2004), they are still run by humans and even the best of us have our own agendas which we want to push forward. The news media is not for our benefit, but for the benefit of their owners, their boards of directors or their shareholders and all of these people have agendas which inherently requires them to pick one side over the other, losing their impartiality in the process. The news media is not an impartial being of unbiased wisdom and it will never be able to become such a thing unless money and agenda setting is eliminated entirely from the process.
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RTÉNewsNow 2015. Reactions from both sides to Ireland’s marriage referendum. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSNPfBPQu7s [Accessed 2/5/17].
TV3 Ireland 2015. Marriage Referendum Results Show | Vincent Browne LIVE from The George. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhsJFxIE9Tc [Accessed 2/5/17].
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