Explore, analyse and comment on the way the story of the conjoined twins has been reported in some newspapers and on the television news.
In modern day society, the media has considerable command and influence over the public. It can be powerful in both positive and negative ways. Although the media is to be embraced, it is also to be treated with utmost care. The way the media is able to manipulate and shape our ideas is paramount to its power; sometimes to the extent where it does not give us a chance to rationalise our opinions.
In my opinion the media has a very important function and has a crucial purpose in society. It can be educational, informative, interesting and entertaining yet, at the same time, the media can be biased, derogatory and sensational.
Too often, people take notice, [and are influenced by], only one form of media. This can lead to a polarised point of view and therefore a narrow-minded outlook. These people are totally oblivious to the clever devices certain areas of the media will use to ‘con and deceive’ them in order to manipulate their train of thought. In this analysis, I will be exploring exactly how the media does this in both newspaper and television broadcast form.
I consider both television broadcasts and newspapers to be equally effective overall in their use of presentational devices. There are, however, fundamental differences in the way this is achieved. Television has the upper hand in terms of sheer versatility; for example, it can use moving diagrams and images to display its ideas whereas the newspapers do not have that ability. In comparison, newspapers are able to make an impact within their limited scope and can be just as effective as a television broadcast. Remember, depending upon the context, a short sharp caption / headline can be far more effective than a moving image.
To begin with, I feel that each report is slightly or more heavily biased in one way or another. In my view, there are two clearly different ways in which to summarise the consequences of the failed operation. Firstly, the negative approach. The slant taken here is of a sensationalised tragedy, evoking sympathy and focusing on the twins and their struggling desire to be independent and how they, ‘fell at the last hurdle’. Both The Sun and the ITN news favour this type of report. Secondly, the positive approach. The Independent and the BBC news are much more inclined to portray the twins as happy smiling individuals who fulfilled their dream of separation – if only for a matter of hours.
It is very difficult to ignore the deliberately blatant sensational devices that are used by The Sun. There is no doubt in my mind that the emboldened headline:
“Glorious Failure OR a Lethal Gamble?”
is attempting to initiate a scandal and is evidently ‘tabloidese’.
Nevertheless, considering what the, [stereotypical], characteristics of a, [stereotypical], tabloid reader are, it is a very effective headline for it is scandalous and sensationalised. This is exactly it’s aim. It immediately involves the reader for it is a rhetorical question and therefore a very good non-fiction hook.
From the outset of the ITN report, ethical questions are raised upon whether the operation should have been attempted or not.
“the surgeons are…trying to explain why it didn’t work.
They create a portrayal of the twins making a wrong decision and also they place an element of blame upon the shoulders of the medical team. The opening images of the twins are of them looking anxious, whereas more informative reports clearly indicate that the twins were fully confident that the decision to go ahead with the operation was solely theirs. They are seen to be in a dilema, yet they were totally committed.
The subsequent images told of the girls’ life in society. However, rather than focusing upon the positive aspects of their life, [such as the fact that Laleh had helped her sister realise her dream of attaining a law degree], they emphasised their struggle and the hardship they had suffered. The portrayal was as if their whole life was a dramatic tragedy, whereas this was certainly not the case.
Similarly, the images shown in The Sun are just as negative. The choice of images are classic for a tabloid on this sort of topic. No scientific diagrams here! They are all downbeat just as though everything was a complete failure. A picture of Dr. Goh is particularly emotional with his head held in his hands. This was also true of the captions, “Battling in vain…” unarguably negative.
I feel that The Sun has blown the event out of all proportion and has missed the point somewhat. It is clear to me that Laden and Laleh Bijani knew the risks and were willing to accept the consequences, however bad they may turn out to be. Therefore, there is no scandal. The use of the “What do you think?” box at the bottom of the page indicates a distinct lack of sensitivity on what is a clearly a very sensitive story. What right do everyday people have to make a judgement on an event they have been ill informed on? It is The Sun after all! Admittedly, this use of direct appeal is effective for The Sun’s ultimate aim: to sell as many copies as possible for, as with the headline, it involves the reader.
In comparison, The Independent has far less emotive pictures. They are reflective yet still touching. The page is dominated by a large portrait of the two twins; happy and smiling, optimistic. The other two smaller pictures are of Dr. Goh and a friend who, unlike in The Sun are pictured showing their obvious disappointment as opposed to their despair. I think it is important to note the facial expression of the twins in the images chosen by each of the papers. They are apparently anxious in The Sun and hopeful and optimistic in The Independent. The pictures from The Independent are the way in which I think the twins would want to be seen by the global community.
I feel that the ITN news was rather contradictory in places as
“impossible to imagine what life was like”
– and yet they questioned whether the operation should ever have been attempted. If they truly empathised with the twins, they would have realised how desperate they were and that it was solely their decision to proceed. Unquestionably, the ITN news is more tactful in its approach in comparison with The Sun for it does not try to consider alternative options to separation and is ultimately less scandalous.
After the initial report, there are video images and archive film of other pairs of conjoined twins to illustrate the fact that there have always been these unfair stereotypical views towards this particular disability. Before the condition was truly understood, these people, real human people, were treated like animals, forced to perform in freak shows. It is therefore understandable that Laleh and Laleh Bijani went to these lengths to achieve their dream.
This feature is subsequently followed by a simple but very clear three-dimensional animation describing the medical procedure that the twins went through.
Although the ITN news is informative to an extent, compared to the BBC, it lacks depth and scientific details. Incidentally though, ITN is the more entertaining of the two news reports. Despite this, the BBC news has, in my opinion, a far more rounded report that simply informs the reader. Unsurprisingly, both reports have the same bare facts but the BBC elaborates on these aspects with a greater depth of detail. For example, the BBC is the only report out of all four reports that has evidence from the twins themselves. They give a press interview where they state their fearlessness. In addition, the way in which the BBC presents how the operation was performed is not as aesthetically pleasing as that of ITN but is realistic and actually refers to scientific principals, whereas the ITN news does not. I think the BBC have done this because the type of people who would watch their broadcast are considered to be genuinely interested in the scientific aspects of the procedure. Perhaps ITN did not go into so much depth because they might want to appeal to a more general audience.
I feel that all four of the articles and reports use language effectively and successfully to achieve their aim.
What is instantly striking about The Sun regarding its use of language is that it is pure emotion from the outset. In any newspaper, the first thing that grabs your attention is either the banner headline at the top, (which here is white text against a black background for added visibility), or the main headline, (which is underlined for the same reason). I think phrases such as “DADS FURY” in the banner headline, sets the tone for the rest of the article. The headline of The Sun, as mentioned before, instantly raises a debate rather than just to tell a story. This is very useful because rhetorical questions always get the readership involved in one way or another.
Strangely enough, the headline in The Independent is, on one level, similar to that of The Sun. Doubtlessly, both headlines raise some sort of debate regarding the operation. However, The Independent is significantly more conservative and handles the article in a refrained fashion.
There is just one caption in The Independent and is predictably informative and is more of a statement than the three used in The Sun. The Sun has an emotive statement followed by an ellipsis to create emotion, for instance, “Heartbreak…” These emotive statements are then followed by a short description of who is in the picture.
The Independent uses no hint of colloquialism to appeal to a wider, more general audience. However, The Sun does this on a couple of occasions.
“and a pal of the twins”
as if to make the reader empathise as well as sympathise to think what it would be like if you lost a “pal”.
The BBC is similar to The Independent for they both use a higher standard of vocabulary and specialist scientific language throughout their report. In comparison the ITN news has a range of vocabulary, including idiom, to make the report more accessible. The Sun is considered to be an “easy” read so it is of no surprise that both the vocabulary and the sentence structure are relatively simple.
The general feeling that I get whilst reading The Independent is that it initially firstly focuses upon the debate in question and secondly comes round to what actually happened. Whether this is deliberate or not remains to be seen but I think it is in this order because it is simply more interesting. Evidence to support this argument lies in the topic sentence.
“the death…twins…raises questions…should have been allowed”
Unlike The Sun’s leading sentence, The Independent leads into an evenly supported discussion whereas The Sun’s article is more biased in favour of a negative way. There are two occasions on which italics are used to emphasise a paragraph in The Sun. Its use in the fourth paragraph of the story acts as a sub-heading and I feel that it is in Italics because special notice should be taken of it. It mentions the twins’ father and the following half dozen paragraphs elaborate on the initial focus of the father’s anger. The second instance of Italics is
“Laleh and Laden won the hearts of millions.”
Again, this acts as a sub-heading because it leads into a brief description of their personal lives.
In the second column, the reporter emboldens one word to initiate discussion,
“to give the women a new life WAS morally justified”
The journalist used this to reinforce the theme of dispute into the minds of the reader. However, in my opinion, the readers knew that it was in fact morally justified and so it also used as a connective to link the first part of the story into evidence given by interviewees in the second part of the story.
In all four reports, expert opinion and interviews are used to great effect. The interviews within The Independent are taken from people who are genuinely qualified to give an honest and rounded opinion. However, The Sun uses people emotionally connected to the twins and thus their rationality may be clouded and their emotions are more evidently expressed in the evidence given. For instance, a medical ethics expert would be the best person to comment on the medical ethics of the operation, whereas, the man who raised the twins would not be.
Alizera Saifain, (the girls adopted father), said:
“I knew they would bring back their bodies. They took them there and killed them”
This is an extremely emotive statement. Any parent who witnesses their children die would be traumatised. Equally, the television broadcasts contrast in a similar way. For instance, the BBC World Affairs Correspondent uses a hint of unnecessary repetition on how “crushed” the medics were regarding the operation. However, some may say that the BBC gives credit to the doctors and surgeons because of the vast amount of time and effort they invested into the twin’s case. Even though it is such a tragic story, the BBC still continues in a positive frame of mind during an interview with an Iranian doctor who stresses how courageous and optimistic the twins were. This demonstrates a personal approach that balances the scientific with the emotional aspects. Furthermore, a neurosurgeon explaining the risks of the operation uses specialist scientific vocabulary and idiom to ensure that his views are accessible to a wide audience including the scientific community.
As with The Independent, the BBC also utilises a medical ethics expert from the British Medical Association. The surgeon who is interviewed by ITN news changes the whole mood and the tone of the interview by using the word “alas”, because this shows that he is, or wants to be, seen as emotionally involved with the twins.
Another admirable touch from ITN is that they mention that the relatives of the deceased place no blame upon the doctors.
In both sets of interviews, the comments made on the medical teams in particular are relatively complimentary. In addition to this evidence, a German specialist is interviewed and claims that he advised against the operation. He is not able to speak English therefore a voice over translation has been used. This raises questions over its authenticity. Although the main thrust would still be the same, ITN could, potentially, make some subtle changes to emphasise certain points.
In conclusion, I think it is quite clear that the each of the four reports fulfil their purpose in every way. They know their target audience and have written their articles and scripts in accordance with this. The purpose of any media is to leave some sort of message with the audience and all four of these do exactly that.