Talking politics in broadcast media

Talking politics in broadcast media: Cross-cultural perspectives on political interviewing, journalism and accountability. Ed. by Mats Ekström and Marianna Patrona. (Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture 42.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. ix, 248. ISBN 9789027206336. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth

The approaches used to investigate political discourse have increased and expanded in scope in recent times. The contexts of political activities and the medium through which they are produced or broadcast have also increased. Today, political discourse is no longer produced only by politicians who wield political power (i.e. from above) but also by the common people at the receiving end of political power (i.e. from below). Using interaction-based approaches like discourse analysis, conversational analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and social semiotics, this book studies political interaction and discourse in a number of broadcast media and across cultures and countries. Focusing on talk, the authors portray different forms of participatory media broadcasts which, besides the traditional format of interviewer (journalist) and interviewee (politician), also involve audiences or what Nuria Lorenzo-Dus (Ch. 10) refers to as ‘citizen interviewers’. The overall aim of the book is to explore ‘how activities of talk and interaction are mutually related to current trends in the media and political discourse’ (3).

The eleven chapters of this book are grouped into three thematic parts: conversational strategies in political interviewing and political news discourse, neutralism and hybridity in contemporary broadcast journalism, and discourse patterns for displaying accountability in citizen participation programs. Even though the idea of conversation or talk as ‘the soul of democracy’ (1) remains contentiously similar throughout the book, the individual chapters use authentic data that situate political processes within specific cultural contexts, which account for the differences in interviewer and interviewee behavior.

The issues investigated include questioning presidential candidates (Steven E. Clayman and Tanya Romaniuk) and doing non-neutral belligerent interaction in hybrid political interviews (Ian Hutchby) in the United States; the politics of ‘trust’ in political discourse in television news (Andrew Tolson) and politics and change in the accountability interview (Martin Montgomery) in the United Kingdom; accountability performance on talk radio in Hong Kong (Francis L.F. Lee and Angel M.Y. Lin); doing accountability in citizen interviews in Spain (Nuria Lorenzo-Dus); pre-election debates in Belgium (Eva De Smedt and Kristel Vandenbrande); address terms in political news interviews in Australia (Johanna Rendle-Short); hybridity in talk show political interviews in Sweden (Mats Ekström); new journalistic rules in political news discourse in Greece (Marianna Patrona); and journalists insulting politicians on air in Israel (Zohar Kampf and Efrat Daskal). These lucidly written chapters challenge given notions in political discourse research, such as roles and identity in interviews, interviewer neutrality or impartiality, and audience (non)-participation in interviews.

This volume offers a good mix of interactional political practices in different media formats across a broad range of cultures and languages. The political interview or talk, the authors illustrate, is rapidly losing its traditional division-of-labor structure for a more participatory, non-neutral, hybrid, opinion-driven structure, made relevant by the inclusion of audiences and common citizens (e.g. through phone-in, video-in, mail-in programs) in the production of political discourse. This gives the volume its place in the contemporary world characterized by fast-evolving communication technologies. However, a chapter on computer-mediated political talk online would have given the volume an additional innovative thrust. As the editors clearly state, however, this was beyond the scope of the volume (1). Scholars in the social and linguistic sciences will find the book an interesting read.