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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les faits divers saturent les écrans

by Claude Baudry

Trivial News Events Swamp French TV Screens

Translated Tuesday 16 June 2009, by Jonathan Pierrel

The crash of the flight AF 447 mightier than the tsunami. In its last barometer of themes for TV news reports, the French National Institute of Audio Visual (INA) looked at the position that natural disasters and trivial news events take in French TV news reports.

The Airbus accident of the flight between Rio De Janeiro and Paris, on June 1, is “about to be become one of the events most covered by the media,” note the INA. Prior to the Airbus accident, over the last six years, the disasters having received the most media coverage are, in decreasing order, the tsunami in South East Asia (Christmas 2004), the storm in France (December 1999), and the explosion of the AZF factory (September 2001).

But what is more striking is the prevalence in TV news reports of trivial events and the suffering of the victims. What’s more, we should count the sharp increase of shows covering trivial events.

To stick to TV news reports, the INA notes that in 2008 “almost 10% of the topics of news reports at night on the main French TV channels (TF1, France2, France3, Arte, Canal Plus and M6) were devoted to natural disasters and trivial news events ; which represents 3,159 topics – an average of 8 per day – a lot more than what is dedicated to political topics (2,111 topics) or to culture and leisure (2,576 topics).” The INA highlights “the spectacular increase of topics showing victims : there were 467 such in 1995, 1,007 in 2000 and 1,990 in 2008 ;” which is four times more than in 1995 with a peak at 2,771 topics in 2005, year of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. “Was the world less violent in 1995 than today ?” asks the INA.

As for trivial news events, the increase is steady. From 630 instances of news coverage in 1995 to 1,710 in 2008 ; “as if the editorial team of the channels biased the topics to favour personal tragedies instead of collective tragedies.” Mugging, murders, and other attacks on people constitute the category with the most TV coverage (37.2%). In 2008, one subject out of five involved children, but rape is no longer mentioned (14 instances).

In 2008, the French TV channel TF1 and France2 showed “a very similar editorial policy,” with a little less than 10% of their topics devoted to natural disasters and trivial events (835 instances on TF1, 790 on France2.) The ratio goes as high as 13.4% on M6 and goes down to 6.3% on Canal Plus, 5.7% on France3 and only 1.4% on Arte. Is that why M6 – considered as a channel of short news items – is preparing for the end of the month a “good news only” news programme, broadcast during lunch time. This programme is called “Certifié positif” (certified positive) and is presented as “a benevolent look on the world which shows that the news is not only bad news.” With a program like that, the crisis can be forgotten !

During the first trimester of 2009 in France, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama share the first position for the people receiving the most TV coverage. Sarkozy ranks first on TF1, France3, Canal Plus, and M6. Obama is on a tie with Sarkozy on France2 and ahead of him on Arte, topping Angela Merkel.

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