Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 5, No. 1, 1991
Edited by Alec McHoul

Broadcast news: a linguistic mode of analysis

Christine Higgins

Broadcast news: a linguistic description

The aim of this paper is to propose a linguistic method for the analysis of certain significant language structures evident in broadcast news. Given the complexities of all textual structures, and of spoken news texts in particular, I intend to restrict my focus to certain syntactic features - namely modality and verb process forms - in an attempt to highlight the interrelationship between ideological processes and discursive organisation.

The term 'modality' subsumes a range of devices that indicate speakers' attitudes to their utterances and, to some degree, to their addressees. These attitudes fall into the areas of validity, predictability, desirability, obligation and permission, to name but a few. The connection of these last two modal meanings with power is obvious, but the first three are also significantly implicated. Frequent and confident judgments of validity, predictability, and (un)desirability are an important part of the practices by means of which claims to authority are articulated and legitimate authority is expressed.

News narratives focus most of all upon the actions of public figures and, since various verb forms communicate different kinds of action, it is useful in an analysis of this kind to chart the particular forms of action ascribed to public figures by the news media or the roles performed by the individuals or entities participating in action. It could be postulated, for instance, that a predominance of agent-action structures will give rise to a perception of the world as a whirl of activity, where public figures/leaders are constantly engaged in action, doing things (presumably) to improve the quality of life for their subordinates. As Fowler et al. point out, verb processes are a fundamental part of the linguistic construction of reality. 1 Therefore, they contribute to the formation of relations and differentials of power.

Broadcast news is an unusual discursive form differing from both conversational speech and written forms of language. As it is written to be spoken, it has some of the properties of both these linguistic forms.

Writing or speaking from a prepared text is normally a planned process and thus illustrates reflection and cohesion. These are indicated in its formal organisation which, as Kress notes, "reflects the logic of the topic rather than the logic of interaction". 2 When reading or listening to the text, individuals actively involve themselves in the creation of its meaning. However, in informal talk, utterances are produced spontaneously which obviously allows little time for reflection or careful construction; and again, the grammar of speech reflects this. Clauses and sentences tend to be chain-like and cumulative rather than complex; with repetitions and restatements. Here, intonation also helps provide the clues necessary to the listener to create the text's meaning.

News talk, since it is received as speech or monologue, makes use of some of these conventions, especially in interviews, on-the spot reports and sections of reported 'live' speech. But these are then integrated into a mode of presentation which is underwritten by the permanence and authority of the written script.

While the cool, distant, objectivity and 'correctness' of the voice of the newsreader both reinforce the myth of the neutrality of the news broadcast, as well as the notion of its factuality and authority, subtle changes in pitch or stress, pauses, or other variations in intonation still exist in newstalk. These act as further mediating devices for listeners, indicating points of drama, increased significance, threat and, at times, even humour.

Another peculiarity of news discourse, as a cultural form which the listener is predisposed to accept, is that while each single news item should have an internal coherence and unity, the broadcast as whole has no such apparent coherence. Topic shifts of some immensity occur constantly with few boundary markers and this, coupled with the fast pace of the delivery, makes it impossible for listeners to make links between the items that may be there, or reflect on the broader significance of what has been presented.

However, it can be demonstrated that, at the inscribed level, a coherent message system or ideology is offered to the listener. Here complexities and contradictions are smoothed over, and there is a tendency towards closure. I am using the term 'closure' in Schlesinger's sense, to mean:

a text that operates mainly or wholly within the terms of reference set by the official perspective, and the images, arguments and evidence affixed by the programme are organised to converge upon a single preferred interpretation and where other possible conclusions are marginalised or closed off. 3

This precludes the possibility of the listener confronting these contradictions or ambiguities or complexities or mounting a critique of the ideology which informs the text. Thus, my interest lies in revealing some of the roles of language which have apparently become invisible in the text.

Social semiotics: news as political institution

News is one of the best examples of discourse concerning the public domain - the arena for the interplay of political and economic forces and the power play of public figures acting in their institutional roles. As a crucial political institution, the media has a major regulating role as regards private and public domains which involves it in constantly reproducing both, as well as assigning to each the appropriate events or processes that have occurred in 'the real world'.

The newsreader is both the vehicle for articulating a text which has many origins, so far as the actual news items are concerned - reporters, news agencies, correspondents and so on - and also helps by constructing or developing the text 'in performance'. These items, once selected, are processed in the newsroom into news copy. The text, to the listener, may appear to have an autonomous existence, independently of its sources, producers and readers. Indeed, part of the legitimacy or validity of the news comes from the concealment of this construction process. As other studies have demonstrated (Tuchmann, Boorstein, Phillips, Schlesinger), 4 much of the selectivity and editing processes are so deeply embedded in the structures of broadcast news that the particular linguistic or cultural codes operating there remain invisible unless a deliberate effort is made to reveal them. Thus most listeners probably remain unaware of the vast amount of selection and routine 'handling' and 'packaging' involved in the construction of the news they listen to.

As already noted, one of the prime functions of news is to reaffirm or realign listeners' positions with regard to the events detailed in the news text. Since all events are subject to ideological processing, and since language provides the categories used in the initial and subsequent classification of an event, so linguistic and ideological processing can be seen to coalesce in text-making.

The selection and use of particular language options or categories will be largely determined by the ideological stance from which a writer or speaker commences. Meaning is mediated by certain structural features of the text, and while it is not wholly constituted by these features, it is constructed by them. Thus an understanding of meaning may be facilitated by reconstructing some of these features.

Before attempting to do this, it is salutary to recall Thompson's point that:

the meaning of an expression is an essentially open, shifting, indeterminate phenomenon, often framed in rhetorical figures and always susceptible to change. Thus ... what may have seemed like a sphere of effective consensus must in many cases be seen as a realm of actual or potential conflict. Hence the meaning of what is said - what is asserted in spoken or written discourse as well as that about which one speaks or writes - is infused with forms of power; different individuals or groups have a differential capacity to make a meaning stick. 5

He adds, too, (supporting what I have said above) that while meaning is not reducible simply to syntax, it is mediated by structural features of the linguistic product such as "patterns of exchange, argumentation, and narrative, as well as various aspects of grammar, syntax and style." 6

The writings of critical linguists such as Kress, Fowler, Hodge and Trew have important implications for this work, as they also emphasise the overlapping area between linguistics and social analysis. Their studies of grammatical and syntactic processes, such as nominalisation, passivisation and classification, shed light on the ways in which our understanding of the world is affected by the language through which it is understood; and their analyses of modality and speech acts call attention to the fact that language is not free from relations of power.

Accordingly, I have selected elements of M.A.K. Halliday's systemic, functional linguistics as an appropriate methodology for the task in hand - analysing news discourse by exploring links between grammatical structure and social structure. A large part of Halliday's work has been dedicated to exploring the way social context is related to linguistic systems. What he calls a 'sociosemiotic' perspective implies:

an interpretation of the shifts, the irregularities, the disharmonies and the tensions that characterise human interaction and social processes. It attempts to explain the semiotic of the social structure, in its aspects both of persistence and of change, including the semantics of social class, of the power system, of hierarchy and of social conflict. It attempts also to explain the linguistic processes whereby the members construct the social semiotic, whereby social reality is shaped, constrained and modified - processes which, far from tending towards an ideal construction, admit and even institutionalise myopia, prejudice and misunderstanding. 7

As a framework for conceptualising the social context as the semiotic environment in which meanings are exchanged, Halliday has developed a complex of the dimensions 'field', 'tenor' and 'mode':

The field is the social action in which the text is embedded; it includes the subject-matter, as one special manifestation. The tenor is the set of role relationships among the relevant participants; it includes levels of formality as one particular instance. The mode is the channel or wavelength selected, which is essentially the function that is assigned to language in the total structure of the situation; it includes the medium (spoken or written), which is explained as a functional variable. 8

Within the linguistic system, it is the semantic (sub-)system which is of primary concern in Halliday's sociolinguistic notion of context - where context is conceived functionally rather than cognitively. Halliday argues that all languages fulfil three general functions: the 'ideational', the 'interpersonal' and the 'textual'. In brief, the ideational function is the 'content function' of language, the interpersonal is the 'particip~atory function' and the textual has an enabling function whereby the previously mentioned meanings can be actualised.

He also relates the semiotic components (field, tenor and mode) to these functional components and, by means of this relation, Halliday highlights the fact that any text and its semantic system embody "the ambiguity, antagonism, imperfection, inequality and change that characterise the social system and social structure." 9

In several contexts, Halliday suggests that one essential feature of a text is that it implies interaction. Thus a study of the 'meaning potential' of news texts suggests an analysis of language in its interpersonal function, since this function of language is especially concerned with establishing and maintaining social relationships.

While transitivity is an important component of the grammar of the clause in its ideational function, modality is an important language category to explore when considering the interpersonal dimension.

One operation that must be performed on every utterance is the speaker's indication of reliability and truth. Modal adverbs or adjectives ('possibly', 'certainly', 'necessarily' and so on) provide one index of speaker attitude; modal auxiliaries ('I should point out...', 'He ought to have...') and mental process verbs ('I think that the right course of action is...') can all be used to indicate the speaker's relationship to his or her utterance as well as implying something about its authority. Kress and Hodge note that "the speaker translates uncertainty about status in the power situation into uncertainty about the status of his utterances". 10 This is illustrated in the hesitation phenomena, ('um', 'er', 'sort of', 'you know', and so on) which are very noticeable in some of the interview segments of news broadcasts. It is therefore possible to perceive something of the interrelationships of language, knowledge and power by examining the structure of speech acts.

In a recent work, Halliday, writing of the role of the clause in representing patterns of experience, notes that:

A fundamental property of language is that it enables human beings to build a mental picture of reality, to make sense of their experience of what goes on around them and inside them. Here again the clause is the most significant grammatical unit ... because it is the clause that functions as the representation of processes. What does it mean, to say that a clause represents a process? Our most powerful conception of reality is that it consists of 'goings-on': of doing, happening, feeling, being.... The basic semantic framework for the representation of processes is very simple. A process consists potentially of three components:

1. the process itself (Message)

2. participants in the process (Interaction)

3. circumstances associated with the process 11

These concepts are semantic categories which explain how 'real world' events are represented as linguistic structures. For the purpose of examining these reports, processes are the most important element of this analytic method because they are concerned with the verb forms; and at the lowest level, the nature of these 'doings', in the verb types, may indicate significant things about the way the world is represented in news reports. The nature and function of the participants and the circumstances in such texts require a different analytical approach. There are six main process types in Halliday's grammar, which are used in the analyses.

These are:

1. Material

2. Behavioural

3. Mental

4. Verbal

5. Rational

6. Existential 12

Further, at the most general, but crucially important level, these processes within the clause carry the energy or the direction of meaning. In speech they are important framing devices since they can and do give shape to discourse.

As far as formal linguistic study is concerned, this division of functions only operates at a very general level and to be fully helpful in the description and categorisation of meaning, a model is necessary which can identify detailed, specific functions. In examining a particular kind of media discourse, and thus relying upon written language (in editorial, newsroom script, or texts) and more complex varieties of spoken language (voiced scripts in the studio or reports from other locations; on-site reporter inserts; 'live' interviews; and actualit‚ items), the application of linguistic categories across the range of grammatical functions is not useful. Because the range of radio stories is located within the imperatives of the radio medium's day-to-day existence (embracing such matters as the creation and retention of an audience; the need to create an immediately recognisable and authoritative broadcasting style; the assumptions made about the nature and roles of the regular listening audience; the commercial necessity to entertain, not merely to inform in the strict sense), the language styles of news broadcasts may be regarded as cultural indicators as well as texts that develop validity in terms of formal linguistic cohesion.

Simultaneous with its organisation as message, the clause is organised as an interactive event involving a speaker (and/or copywriter(s) in the case of news text) and an audience. In speaking or writing, a particular role is adopted and, in the process of so doing, a complementary role is also assigned to the listening audience. The overt function of news discourse is the conveying of information; which is itself a linguistic construct, consisting of statements or propositions.

Halliday argues that when examining the clause as an interactive event, various aspects of modality must be analysed; as this is where their semantic function lies. I intend to concentrate upon the way adjuncts function in the texts. My interest in these language functions stems from the fact that they relate very strongly to thematic structures and should, therefore, help the analyst to pinpoint ways in which ideological meanings are presented by speakers (or newsreaders). These seem to offer the possibility of highlighting aspects of news discourse which might otherwise be taken for granted or, to put it more strongly, might be unconsciously dismissed by the listener because of their familiarity and their rarely-considered significance in everyday speech.

Briefly, there are two classes of adjuncts: (a) conjunctive adjuncts which are very important in surface discourse; that is, they play an important part in the narrative structure of a text because they relate a particular clause to the preceding text; (b) modal adjuncts, which express the speaker's judgment in relation to the message, are particularly important in evaluating somebody else's message and thus inscribing a position for the listener with regard to that message.

It is postulated that these modalities are of crucial important in two areas: in the newsreader's text, where their occurrence and their nature may well indicate something of editorial bias/judgment; and in the interview inserts and monologue extracts which punctuate news broadcasts. Obviously, in an interview extract, their importance is clear since the reporter's question will 'code' something to the audience - if modalities are used. This circumstance is a test-case for the method because the interview-on-the-spot is the nearest news discourse gets to natural dialogue or conversation.

The 'inserted monologue' is also important because the disembodied voice doesn't occur spontaneously. It relates to the general text in question and the 'monologue' itself is an inscribed response to a reporter's question, even if the audience does not hear that question. Therefore, any modal adjuncts present in a monologue section will be inscribed judgments which relate to thematic aspects of the general texts or judgments upon the kinds of reporter questions asked (which would have thematic referents, in any case). Two worked examples follow:

Example 1 - Macquarie News Network

Newsreader: The increase in the inflation rate for the year to the end of March is likely13 to add to union pressure for the restoration of the real purchasing power of wages at the next wage hearing. An Arbitration Commission Conference to work out guidelines for a return to centralised wage fixing has ended in Sydney. Kate Wall reports another hearing will be held in three weeks.

Wall: Employers' Federation spokesman Alan Jones said fundamental differences between unions and employers about the way wages are to be adjusted can be bridged in the Arbitration Commission.

Jones: The union movement, after all, argue that not only should we have a centralised wage fixation system but there should be automatic adjustments ah - in wages, for increases in prices. Now, employers simply say you've got to bear in mind the capacity of the economy to pay, productivity increases, and so on. And to that extent there is some gulf between the union's position and the position taken by employers. But, hopefully, many of these gulfs can be bridged in the sort of discussions that have taken place today.

Newsreader: These discussions have now ended and, as Kate Wall reports, another hearing will be held in three weeks.

Wall: Today's Conference broke up only an hour after it started. Arbitration Commission President Sir John Moore who chaired the meeting has put out a statement saying that the ACTU presented a detailed submission on wage fixation to the Conference. The Federal and State Governments and the Confederation of Australian Industry representing employers have asked for time to consider the Union movement's position so another Conference has been scheduled to be held in Melbourne on 23rd May. ACTU President, Cliff Dolan, has refused to elaborate on the Union's submission, and wouldn't comment on whether it included a provision for a wage rise as early as July or a system of wage rises determined by increases in the cost of living. All that Mr Dolan would say was that we would have to wait until the next Conference for details. At the Arbitration Commission in Sydney - Kate Wall for Macquarie National News.

This news story, the second in the broadcast and a major headline story, 14 is best seen in the context of the previous story and indeed flows out of it thematically (indicating the deliberate sequencing of news so as to present a consistent message system).

The previous news items and the major headline for the bulletin dealt with the latest CPI figures for the March quarter which were reported to have risen two points, resulting in a new inflation rate of 11.5% per annum. Mr Howard, the Shadow Treasurer, is given the opportunity to comment on these (rather than Mr Keating, which in itself is noteworthy).

He indicated that the increase was not good, and in conclusion is reported to have said: 'however, without the wage pause the March, the outcome would have been much worse. The government, instead of undermining the wage pause as it is presently doing, must make it clear that the pause has its full support'.

The first sentence in this report flows on logically from this summation of the item broadcast immediately before. The adverb 'likely' focuses attention on the probability of increased union pressure for the return of the 'real purchasing power of wages'. The vocal stress on 'add' further implies that there is already union pressure, and that the increase in the CPI will only make this pressure worse. As well, there may be a further implication here that the union movement's additional pressure will make it even harder for the government to maintain the wage pause - which Mr Howard has already indicated is very important to slow the rate of inflation. That the unions are thus both selfish and short-sighted is being signalled.

The reporter prepares the way for Alan Jones, the Employers' Federation Spokesman, who takes a fairly positive approach in contrast to what has been said and implied previously. He indicates that despite 'fundamental differences' (stressed), these can be 'bridged' (stressed) in the Arbitration Commission. However, the reporter is careful to indicate that Mr Jones is referring to the 'way' (stressed) wages are to be adjusted, a more theoretical and perhaps less contentious issue than the actual size of wage increases.

Mr Jones' manner is indicated by his use of adjuncts. Three out of the four employed are conjunctives and they all clearly develop the discourse as opposed to modifying or judging. 'After all', 'now' and 'simply' (contrastive, temporal and presumptive) are explanations and clarifiers and thereby give the narrative some shape.

What follows is, in part, the predictable 'labour vs capital' debate about wages. The adjunct 'after all' has a contrastive and dismissive force here, as Mr Jones prepares to state his perception of the Unions' stance on wages which he later intends to refute. 'Now' has adversative force as he moves to put the employers' case. The next sentence prepares the way for a positive note of compromise, introduced as it is by 'but hopefully'. 'But' indicates this change in direction and signals an adversative statement to come. The modal adjunct, 'hopefully', then suggests Mr Jones's optimism that, despite the 'gulfs', a 'bridge' can be found in discussions in the Arbitration Commission.

The presenter and reporter re-enter the narrative at this point to proffer explanations as to why the talks lasted only 'one hour'. Whereas the somewhat sensational headline at the beginning of the broadcast implies something like a union walkout or some other disruption to the talks, it is now made clear that they, in effect, had to be adjourned after the presentation by the ACTU of a 'detailed submission on wage fixation' which would need consideration by all parties before further commission talks. This places an entirely different complexion on the case.

The reporter then moves on to present Cliff Dolan's position for 'balance' against Mr Jones's. In contrast, Cliff Dolan seems unapproachable - 'refused to elaborate', 'wouldn't comment'. By implication, he seems to be intractable compared with Mr Jones's reasonableness and optimism. This again is a way of structuring opinion for listeners.

Overall, and paradoxically, it is the optimistic and generally fair speech delivered by Mr Jones that is most at variance with the frame established by the newscaster who has attempted a 'union bashing' theme, as the initial misleading headline, the sequencing of items, the introductory presentation and closing remarks about Cliff Dolan have illustrated.

Verb analysis again confirms this interpretation in that the presenter-reporter complicity takes up all the firm text-making processes, with thirteen out of the sixteen verbs being material types. These and most of the 'behavioural' types focussed on events, potential action and established situations involving the Union movement. Mr Jones's verbal processes are less concrete, more varied and therefore suggestive of greater flexibility, and a more accommodating response. It is perhaps worth noting that in news items the impression given of thought and greater balance of opinion, is made when the verb processes are both varied and have fewer material and behavioural elements.

Example 2

(The following transcript has been broken into numbered sentences)


1. The Federal Secretary of one of Australia's most powerful unions, Charlie Fitzgibbon, of the Waterside Worker's Federation has pledged his members' support for a consensus approach on wages.

2. He acknowledged at today's National Economic Summit that some sections of the community doubted the ACTU's capacity to deliver its part of the bargain in any prices and incomes Accord.

3. But Mr Fitzgibbon, a Senior Vice-President of the ACTU, told the summit that his union would play its part:


4. The ACTU is required to deliver its side of the bargain.

5. Now let me tell you, that I represent a reasonably strong Union.

6. That reasonably strong Union has taken this Accord, as it generally does, through every aspect of its membership down to stop-work meetings, with the result that it has been unanimously accepted throughout Australia.

7. There is an equal responsibility on the side of employers; and those words, no more no less, have very important implications.


8. Mr Fitzgibbon's speech followed claims overnight from ACTU officials that employers are not matching the union movement's spirit of compromise.

9. The ACTU President, Cliff Dolan, said unions are prepared to moderate wage demands in return for the reintroduction of centralised wage fixing; but Mr Dolan said some employer groups are taking an uncompromising stand.

10. Mr Dolan says he's confident difficulties can be worked out, despite his disappointment with a speech to the Summit from the President of the Confederation of Australian Industry, Don Hughes:


11. Apart from the fact that I was - rather disappointed with the lack of - conciliation in Mr Hughes's speech - it was quite uncompromising and to some extent the speech of Sir Roderick Carnegie - I think it has gone very well to date, and I believe by the end of the week we will reach, you know, a great deal of consensus.


12. But Mr Hughes had denied that employers are not willing to compromise:


13. I'll be looking for Mr Dolan as soon as I get to the meeting this morning to find out what specifically it is that is being attributed to him, is his concern.

14. Uncompromising isn't the right - isn't a good word - if that means we are not going to shift our position - then that is not true.

15. There is the position we just can't move from and that is our capacity to pay higher wages.

In the first sentence the stress on 'powerful' and 'pledged', the alliteration and the use of 'consensus', all signal some important (and new) information to listeners. The textual meaning is that there are grounds for some optimism if one of the most influential unions has publicly promised to support the Accord.

Sentence #1 takes the form of a rebuttal of the following given information in the second - 'that some sections of the community doubted the ACTU's capacity to deliver its part of the bargain'. Again, stress on 'its' is important - suggesting not just public cynicism about union wage restraint but also that the other side, the employer group, can usually be relied on to keep its promises.

Sentence #3 is an expansion of the rebuttal outlined in sentence #1. Again, it is new knowledge - and the adjunct, 'but', signals its adversative nature. This prepares the way for the monologue from Mr Fitzgibbon - which is all new knowledge.

The monologue (sentences ##4-7) consists of a very assertive set of statements. There are strong verbs (such as 'unanimously accepted'), an imperative ('is required to deliver') and a deliberate understatement and repetition of 'reasonably strong union'. (The qualification calls attention to the real strength of this union). Clauses are indicative/dec~lar~ative or imperative, and their interpersonal function is to inform in unequivocal terms the decision by this influential union to support the Accord. Causal and temporal links are clearly and carefully made: '...has taken this Accord, as it generally does ... every aspect of its membership ... with the result that ... unanimously accepted'.

Not only does this statement (so far as text is concerned), signal the irrefutable certainty of their stance, but also highlights the very equitable and democratic procedures which are part of normal union practice for decision making within the hierarchy. Pauses between units of meaning are also significant in emphasising this. The earlier phrase 'now, let me tell you' is a boundary marker and an attention-getting device. The conjunctive adjunct 'now' has respective force; it is important in indicating a certain relationship with what has gone before, and also in marking the beginning of the most significant section of the discourse textually, and interpersonally - the climax of the information. The speaker here wishes to give a powerful illustration of what it means for the ACTU 'to deliver its side of the bargain'. This section is mainly new knowledge and all the linguistic and tonal devices serve to give it maximum prominence.

The Reporter's segment (sentences ##8-10) provides a frame or context of given information against which listeners can interpret Mr Fitzgibbon's final assertion and evaluation '...very important implications', with its somewhat veiled innuendo. It also keeps alive the spirit of cut and thrust characteristic of the whole.

Sentences #9 and #10 again introduce new knowledge couched in the form of claim and counter-claim. The report of Cliff Dolan's assertion in #9 is both a reinforcement and an extension of the earlier statement made by Fitzgibbon. The Union movement's spirit of compromise, illustrated by its willingness to 'moderate wage demands', (note reporter's loaded words) contrasts with the employers' uncompromising state. The reporter is careful to repeat, 'Mr Dolan says', constantly, in order to emphasise where these assertions originate. The use of adjuncts ('but' and 'despite' - both adversative) highlights the contrastive focus of the statements - on the 'uncompromising stand' and his 'disappointment with the speech...'.

Next, Cliff Dolan's section (#11) provides the verbal evidence which bears out the reporter's previous precis of Dolan's position - a means of self-validation, perhaps, showing that news reporting is not as truthful and unbiased as it claims. There are several pauses and frequent hesitations. These may be deliberate, or may indicate simple nervousness, or that the speaker is choosing his words carefully. But, coincidentally, they seem to focus on and to highlight the major points of text: 'disappointed', 'lack of conciliation', 'quite uncompromising'. The pauses, in fact, punctuate the discourse.

This is a judgmental section of the discourse and the adjuncts bear this out. Dolan begins with the adversative 'apart from the fact that...' which provides an oppositional introduction to the evaluations he intends to make on his opponent's stance. This is followed up by the relative or qualifying adjunct 'to some extent', where the speaker is choosing his words especially carefully. Later, the admissive 'you know' and the opinion-type adjunct 'I think' and 'I believe' indicate the expression of the speaker's personal optimistic predictions of the outcome of the conference.

The reporter then quickly delivers the other side of the case - emphasising the words 'denied', 'not' and 'compromise'. The adjunct 'but' signals once more a new unit of information of a conflicting kind. This is a classic labour vs capital text - a balanced set of position statements, veiled (or not so veiled) accusations, and rebuttals of the allegations of the other side. Clauses are declarative or imperative, in keeping with the assertive nature of the discourse in its interpersonal function. It is interesting and perhaps significant that Mr Hughes has the last say. The adjuncts have appeared to focus the text-making function, and the tonal structure may be related to interpersonal function as well as to textuality.

In summary, it seems that the spirit of compromise, the essence of the Accord, is not born out in the discourse, despite the declarations of good faith and willingness to compromise that are made.

Conclusions: language and ideology

This long example, with its inevitable verbal range, given that there are four speakers involved, is still basically non-varied in verb selections. Of the 34 identified, 22 (68%) conform to the material (action and event) and verbal categories. Of these, 13 (60%) are provided by the editorial script from Macquarie News Network. Both Mr Fitzgibbon and Mr Hughes supply high proportions, in their speeches, from these categories, which emphasise actions and the reactions of these speakers. When added to the presenter's contributions, the verbal 'toning' of the complete report is one of toughness and positive action of 'cut and thrust' rather than reflection or reasoned argument. These are well within the conventional scope of reports on industrial events by the Macquarie News Network (and many other media).

A contrast with the above, and probably an idiosyncratic one, is Mr Dolan's contribution. The verbs here are largely mental in a stark, almost unrealised, difference from the other contributions. My view is that this is a good example of Mr Dolan's unhurried, ruminative style.

The two industrial texts analysed here are stereotypically presented in terms of familiar categories: lexically, pejorative or adversarial terminology is common ('demands', 'pressure', 'threat', 'uncompromising') and in these and almost all news reporting a structure of binary opposition is established to represent the confrontation of employer and employee, government versus unions, claim and counter-claim. The use of adversative adjuncts ('despite this', 'even so', 'but') helps signify this debate structure. Issues are made to appear equally weighted by the repetition and balance of clauses 'Mr X says', 'but Mr Y said...'. This is also a blatantly simple way of signalling the legitimate group, individual or activity and the illegitimate, and of separating the ideologically preferred meaning from the non-acceptable.

Various other mediations occur which shape the discourse so as to preempt a particular approved reading of the situation. The introductory presentation frequently creates a frame which is quite at variance with the substance of remarks made later by interviewees. This frame mediates meaning for listeners by altering the thrust of a speaker's comments - quite radically at times.

To the same end, reporters tend to paraphrase speakers' comments, not only inaccurately summing up what was said but, additionally, offering the reporter's personal evaluation of the interview, which may be a deliberate ideological transformation so that a preferred meaning is constructed. Example 1 sets up an anti-union frame in the initial presentation where there is a misleading headline statement, an information sequence and a closing summary which imply intransigence on the part of Cliff Dolan. This whole approach is interestingly at odds with the more flexible, optimistic approach of Mr Jones, the Employers' Federation spokesman.

Modality is a further important aspect of language that helps establish the degree of authority of an utterance. In this analysis I have concentrated particularly on modal adjuncts which have an important interpersonal function. Not only do they provide insight into the speakers' attitudes and assessments, but in addition they may reveal their attempts to influence the judgments or behaviour of others. Since so many news items are structured oppositionally, as sites of confrontation, then the most obvious modal adjuncts are adversatives ('however', 'but', 'even so', 'apart from the fact that') or contrastives ('actually', 'in fact'); assertives ('I'll tell you what') or dismissives where the speaker wishes to deride his opponent. In the newsreader's text, assertives occur frequently and adversatives are especially obvious in industrial items ('However, the men will stay out...'). Predictives, too, are frequent as reporters evaluate new knowledge, predict outcomes, or pass summarising judgments on the assertions or predictions of those they have interviewed. The considerable use of modal adjuncts in news copy further gives the lie to the neutrality of this form of discourse.

Adjuncts of opinion ('I think', 'I believe') or admissives ('let me say this' or 'you know') are most often associated with verbal or mental process verbs, and indicate speakers at pains to justify, rationalise, explain actions, or point to where they are uncertain on the future outcome of events. One useful example of adjunct and verbal process inter-connection of this kind is in Example 1 with the utterances of Mr Jones, the Employers' Federation spokesman. His verbal processes are varied, having few material or behavioural process verbs, and a greater number of verbal, mental and relational components. This gives an impression of greater flexibility and balance of opinion. His adjunct use supports this - the major one ('hopefully') suggesting a positive note of optimism for the future of the discussions.

In general, the combination of varied verb processes in a speaker's discourse, combined with admissives, predictives or adjuncts of opinion indicate uncertainties or ambiguity or that things are not clear-cut and unproblematic. Such a pattern expressing uncertainty is often in marked contrast to the crude, unproblematic assessments of the newsroom. Ideology establishes parameters in which a society in dominance can continue to reproduce itself. While these may be inscribed, there are constant shifts in accentuation in language and clashes of meaning, that Volosinov refers to as 'the class struggle in language'. 15 Some of these have been illustrated above, and are important in shattering the myth of the neutrality of broadcast news.

Language serves both to confirm and consolidate the ideological 'apparatuses' and organisations that shape it, as well as being used to manipulate people and to establish and maintain them in economically convenient roles and statuses. It is thus in speech and writing that the ideology of a culture is linguistically encoded, articulated and tacitly confirmed. Therefore linguistic analysis must provide a valuable means of revealing ideological processes in the production of discourse and, in this instance, it has afforded, I believe, a means of partially demystifying the discursive practices and functions of broadcast news.


1. Roger Fowler et al., Language and Control (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

2. Gunther Kress, "Language in the Media: The Construction of the domains of Public and Private", Media Culture and Society, v.8 (1986) pp.395-419.

3. Philip Schlesinger, Televising "Terrorism" Political Violence in Popular Culture (London: Comedia Publishing Group, 1983), p.32.

4. D.J. Boorstein, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America (New York: Atheneum, 1980). Barbara E. Phillips, "Novelty Without Change", Journal of Communication, v.26, n.4 (1976) pp.87-92. Gaye Tuchman, Making News (New York: The Free Press/Macmillan, 1978).

5. J.B. Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984), p.132.

6. Ibid, p.70.

7. M.A.K. Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic (London: Edward Arnold, 1978), p.126.

8. Ibid, p.100.

9. Ibid, pp.114-115.

10. Gunther Kress & Bob Hodge, Language as Ideology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p.127.

11. M.A.K. Halliday, An Introduction to Functional Grammar (London: Edward Arnold, 1985), p.106.

12. Ibid, p.131.

13. Italics indicate emphasised words in the oral text.

14. The headline for this story was "The Arbitration Commission Conference on centralised wage fixing breaks up in Sydney".

15. V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (New York: Academic Press), p.84.

New: 23 December, 1995 | Now: 18 March, 2015