The appropriation of dramatic television elements in contemporary British current affairs broadcasting
: Narrative, characterisation, and the presence of primary definers. A critical discourse analysis (CDA) of Panorama’s coverage of the 2003 Iraq War

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    At a time when there are critical debates about the role of Public Service television in the UK, this thesis will provide a timely, original and innovative new approach to the study of Current Affairs broadcasting. The research will critically examine the BBC Current Affairs broadcasting strand most closely associated with, even emblematic of public service broadcast ‘values’, Panorama (1953 – current). Panorama is of particular significance inasmuch as it is the established Current Affairs television text, the standard bearer against which other contemporary television Current Affairs broadcasts are measured: Panorama is perhaps the key signifier of serious journalism on television. Furthermore, the BBC’s public service remit is figuratively and discursively displayed by the Panorama ‘brand’. The BBC in general, and Panorama in particular, are framed by ideas of impartiality and balance, this research examines what these terms mean, and how are they manifest in the television journalism discourse and landscape. Alongside its position as a ‘flagship’ brand, an additional rationale for selecting Panorama as the sample lies in the fact that research into contemporary representations in high modality forms has largely been limited to analysis of News texts. Concomitantly, there is a paucity of research data regarding the ‘extended’ text that is Current Affairs broadcasting. This thesis addresses this ‘lack’.
    Analysis in Media Studies, Cultural Studies and Journalism have so far paid little attention to the techniques and methods appropriated and imported from other modes of representation. In this instance, attention will be paid to the representational modalities of drama – character, archetype, casting, narrative, non-diegetic score – to assess the extent to which these elements are evident (even central) in Current Affairs broadcasting, and to assess the role these modalities play in the discursive formation of Current Affairs in general and Panorama in particular.
    Employing a multi-modal approach, the thesis incorporates an extensive content analysis in order to chart patterns and regularities within a large sample of Panorama broadcasts pertaining to the Iraq War/Gulf War. The research assumes a Critical Discourse Analysis approach to investigate the ideas evoked both linguistically and visually throughout ten Panorama broadcasts. Taking a qualitative approach, the thesis develops specific analytical and discursive frames of analysis that systematically examine the recurring themes and scrutinises their discursive strategies and functions in the construction of meaning and ideology. The dominant thematic and discursive findings suggest that the Panorama broadcasts of 2002–2004 pertaining to Iraq all, to some extent, employ a combination of televisual, journalistic and dramatic characteristics that construct a vision and version of Western Power that has at its core, benign and benevolent intent(ions). What this thesis outlines as the ‘doctrine of benign intervention’.
    The thesis concludes by suggesting that Current Affairs in general, and Panorama in particular, must either shift away from the overly and overtly dramatic and instead [re]turn to an approach that [re]locates issues and events in their wider social, historical, ideological and geo-political context. Or alternatively, if, as contemporary trends suggest, the latest iteration of television Current Affairs journalism increasingly does focus on the personal, utilising dramatic frames in order to tell stories, and if Panorama continues to remain within the genre, the form, and utilising the practices and discourses of journalism, with all its contemporary attendance to ‘the personal’ and ‘the dramatic’, then it will need to cast its net wider. In order to provide the necessary wider contextual detail, the Current Affairs journalistic form will need to feature a much wider and greater plurality of voices. Anything less means that, through its internalised and established practices, Panorama will continue to place limitations on what constitutes legitimate, salient and ‘acceptable’ opinion(s).
    Date of Award12 Feb 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorPaul Rixon (Supervisor) & Cocking Ben (Supervisor)


    • current affairs broadcasting
    • Panorama
    • BBC
    • impartiality
    • drama
    • critical discourse analysis

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