MODULE 2 - DECRYPTING INFORMATION
SESSION 4 : DECRYPTING DIFFERENT MEDIAEducational sheet 9
CHAPTER 9 – SCREEN MEDIA
Level : Intermediate
Objective 1: Distinguishing between different information formats and their objectives
Objective 2: Understanding the role of images in different audio-visual formats
Objective 3: Finding representative examples to approach the issue of screen media
Documentaries and news reports
Definitions: Documentaries are part artwork and part journalistic enquiry. They are different from fiction because they cover real topics and the primary goal remains to tell the public about reality. As opposed to a news report, documentaries use artistic language that appeals to viewers’ emotions to make them think. Conversely, a news report is a journalistic enquiry anchored in objectivity, even though the author of the report may be a stakeholder and activist. In a news report, all aspects of fiction are abandoned in favour of fact.
- Serbian director Mila Turajlić’s documentary Druga strana svega (‘The Other Side of Everything’, 2017) revisits the last 70 years of Serbia’s history from the perspective of Srbijanka Turajlić, the director’s mother and a peace activist. The director creates a dialogue between her family’s history and that of her country, examining the question of the political engagement of previous generations in juxtaposition with the disillusionment of today’s young Serbs.
- Another documentarian, Samir Karahoda of Kosovo, examines the emigration of a section of Kosovo’s youth in his film Në Mes (‘In Between’, 2019). In the documentary, Karahoda highlights a crucial and topical issue facing his country: the lack of economic prospects for a large swath of its young people and the splintering of the family, a very important social unit in Kosovar society.
- There are many televised reports from the Balkans devoted to issues such as corruption and organised crime. One example of this comes from Montenegrin journalist Olivera Lakić, the force behind an investigation into organised crime who was subsequently the target of a firearm attack as a result.
Film and cinema
Fiction and cinema can also examine the same themes as documentaries and news reports, but without following the same formulas. Films can tell fictional stories that are actually inspired by real life. This makes cinema a less restrictive way of dissecting major societal issues and making viewers think.
Example: In his film Honeymoons (2009), Serbian director Goran Paskaljević tells the fictional story of two couples, one Serbian and one Albanian, to examine the topic of emigration to Europe through a lens that is both ironic and dramatic.
Television: Television news programmes
In the history of media and access to information, the arrival of television was similar to today’s social networks in that both have been gamechangers in the way people consume information. This iconic medium retains its importance in our societies, forcing us to reflect on how this audio-visual tool is used to convey information.
Definition: A television news programme generally lasts several dozen minutes, is shown on television, and hosted by one or more presenters. It may offer news reports on international, national, or local topics and be interspersed with recurring segments such as the weather forecast.
The primary aim of a news programme is to provide high-quality reports on current events or feature stories covered by journalists or correspondents that work for the channel. As opposed to radio, which itself provides quick, newsflash-style reports, a television news programme places particular importance on images, both in terms of presenters’ mannerisms and appearance as well as in the reports, photography, and infographics shown on screen (colour-coding, text formatting, set decoration, etc.).
Example: In 2016, the heads of the Albanian channel Zjarr TV’s news programme decided to have nearly topless anchorwomen, their chests barely covered by open blazers, present the headlines. Though an extreme case, this choice, which was strongly criticised as sexist, well illustrates the importance of managing the visuals in a televised news programme.
A limited medium
Although television is a very popular medium, TV channels are not immune to certain economic forces and sometimes even political influence (especially in the case of public channels), which can have an effect on the quality of the information they provide and limit the range of opinions and opposition movements they report on. In the Balkans in particular, pertinent news topics are often replaced with lighter segments, in a manner that mimics tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines.
Example: In March 2019, protestors from Serbias #1od5 miliona movement and other opposition-party representatives demonstrated in front of the offices of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) to criticise this lack of television representation.
This situation has encouraged multiple international news channels to invest in the region both to give viewers an alternative as well as for geopolitical reasons. As a result, the Qatari channel Al Jazeera has opened a local bureau in Sarajevo in recent years and Russia Today has begun airing news in the local language on Serbian radio station Studio B.
Television news remains popular, but it is losing more and more ground to online media and social networks.
The new screens
Time spent looking at screens has risen steadily each year in every country worldwide, especially among young people. Television takes up a large proportion of that time, but it is social media that has really driven the increase in screen time. A 2019 study by BusinessFibre.co.uk presented a list of countries with the highest number of hours spent online, indicating that the world average for screen time is 6 hours and 42 minutes per day (see link under ‘Taking it further’).
A large part of the time spent on social media is dedicated to watching videos, ever-present on the internet, especially via the app from video giant YouTube.
Definition: YouTube is a video hosting platform and a social network where users can send, watch, comment on, rate, and share streamed videos. Created in February 2005 by three ex-PayPal employees, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, and purchased by Google in October 2006 for 1.65 billion dollars, it is one of the most visited websites in the world. In 2020, YouTube had more than 2 billion users log in per month.
It is therefore interesting to note that the platform has adopted certain audio-visual codes from television. For example, we talk about ‘YouTube channels’ and YouTubers need to have the same skills as TV presenters: good oral expression, a look that draws people in, some even replicate TV programmes.
Example: YouTubers with the most followers by country:
Bosnia and Herzegovina: https://www.youtube.com/user/Seherzad
Some television channels have realised the appeal of this format to younger generations and have invested in the medium by re-posting shows there or having the option of watching the channel live on YouTube, such as the Serbian channel RTS Sajt– Zvanični, which broadcasts its programme Moja generacija Z (‘My Generation Z) there.
The success of YouTube over television can also be attributed to the wealth of the content it offers. Anyone online can produce or post a video, so people’s tastes and opinions are much better represented than on television. This makes it a tool that citizens can use to express themselves on topics that interest them, produce ‘explainer’ videos, make their ideas heard, raise awareness on a topic, or communicate important information, such as when protestors livestream their movements during a demonstration.
By making itself a hub of audio-visual production and publishing, YouTube and video-ready social media enjoy a dominant position in our relationship with information. This, however, raises central questions around freedom of expression, monopolies, and responsibility they bear for the content they support, especially potentially false information, hate speech, and conspiracy theories, which have sadly become very common on this platform that is used by so many young people.