Viewing the World: a study of British television coverage of developing countries

Viewing the World: a study of British television coverage of developing countries

What kinds of images and ideas from around the world are British viewers being offered? What impact are they having on the viewers? And how do television decision-makers approach the global content on their channels?

This research project addresses these questions, in three distinct studies, focusing on programming about the developing world:

  • The content study analysed news and feature programme output over a three-month period
  • The audience study looked at viewers’ responses to this programming
  • The production study examined the broadcasters’ approach to their international output.

The content study found a marked imbalance in the way developing countries are portrayed, especially on news where coverage was generally limited to disasters, bizarre events, or visits by prominent westerners.

The audience study found that television was a strong source of beliefs and impressions about the developing world.Viewers generally perceived the developing world in a negative way, blaming this on television images. This study identified a serious problem with audience understanding of development issues, especially on news programmes.

The production study pointed to a dilemma. Television policy-makers all recognise the importance of television’s role in informing people about the world. But most doubt that viewers want to watch programmes about the developing world, so this output has come to be regarded as a ratings risk.

Together, the studies highlight existing problems, but also point to new approaches that could be taken with television’s global coverage. The research points to programme formats and genres that have both attracted and informed their audiences, which should be placed more prominently in the TV schedules. It points to the need for continued work on making global issues comprehensible to viewers. And it reveals the concern of television programme-makers and policy-makers that the portrayal of the wider world should be turned into compelling viewing. [author]

The study is available in two versions:

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