Evaluating questions in journalism
A case study of the Australian public broadcaster’s coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Keywords:Australian Broadcasting Corporation, media discourse, semantics, semantic network, systemic functional linguistics
To evaluate current affairs interviews, an analysis of question types is central. This paper takes data from The 7.30 Report, a current affairs programme broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; specifically, interviews with a nightly panel of ‘military experts’ during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by ‘Coalition’ forces. The paper considers how the professional practice of the programme’s presenter, a high profile, experienced, Australian journalist (Kerry O’Brien), fulfilled his role at this ‘critical moment’ in the history of Australia’s public broadcaster. Drawing on Hasan’s metafunctional description of the semantics of questions (Hasan 1983, 1996, in press), the paper presents some evidence that O’Brien’s questions allowed the panelists, at least two of whom could not be considered independent, disinterested observers, to construe events largely on their own terms. The multidimensional analysis of O’Brien’s questions, which Hasan’s message semantic network description enables, brings out various kinds of evidence (interpersonal, ideational and textual) from which it is possible to argue that O’Brien’s interviews with this panel constituted a mode of news which served the interests of the belligerent countries.
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