Refugees and “Odmevi”: The Epistemology of Conventions
In this article I investigate the representation of the “refugee problem” in the Odmevi current affairs program on Slovenian national TV. I aim to explore how conventional, naturalized codes and neutralism as a constitutive element of professional self-presentation in political journalism determined the treatment of the “refugee problem”. In this context, I analyze the selection of external or “accessed” voices in the Odmevi studio interview, the discursive framing of interviewees and their placement into the show’s narrative. The main findings are a) that the selection and b) the discursive treatment of studio guests in Odmevi’s interviews caused or rather enabled the debate on the “refugee problem” to be narrowed to the sphere of legitimate controversy represented by partisan politics. The selection and treatment of accessed voices (interviewees and guests) created the so-called opinion or discursive tunnel, which consequently led to the complete symbolical marginalization of all views that fell outside the parliamentary mainstream and its interests, and hence to treating the problem as a mere sequence of events.
KEY WORDS: refugees, tv interview, neutralism, accessed voices, conversation analysis
In this article I investigate the representation of the “refugee problem” in the Odmevi current affairs program on Slovenian national TV. The show is aired during prime time and plays an important role in the thematization of national issues or rather the ways in which the media transformation of public problems into public issues, i.e. the so-called agenda-setting function. The analysis includes shows aired from October 9 to December 22, 2015, a time when Europe and Slovenia witnessed the greatest influx of refugees along the so-called Balkan route. I focus on some problematic professional conventions and assumptions that serve as the legitimization of the genre and in particular on the ideological effects of conventions of interviewing. Within this context, I analyze the selection of external and “accessed” voices in the Odmevi studio interview, the discursive framing of interviewees and their placement into the show’s narrative. Given that the ideology of neutralism in news shows such as Odmevi dictates the entire production process, interviews play a central role in the discursive construction of the “refugee problem”.
In the conclusion of the analysis I argue that, first, the selection of speakers in the program contributes to framing that is sponsored by parliamentary political fractions. The refugee problem is, therefore, predominantly only a part of a much larger story about a) the Manichean conflict between the Slovenian left and right wing politics, b) incompetent politicians and misled citizens, and c) the relationship between civilized Europe and primitive Islam. Second, such selection of interviewees completely marginalizes any definition of the problem that falls outside the so-called “motherhood and apple-pie” consensus (see Hallin 1994) or outside interpretations that are institutionalized and represented by political actors within the framework of parliamentary or para-parliamentary politics. Third, such selection of studio interviewees supports episodic framing of the subject and marginalizes the so-called thematic framing (i.e. problem treatment of events placed within a broader social, international political, etc. context) to ensure a radical “structural amnesia” in treating refugees. Fourth, there are sporadic attempts in the news show to transpose the political, i.e. accountability interview genre (see Montgomery 2008), used to conduct interviews with politicians, into an expert interview, thus positioning politicians as experts (see the example of the politician Janez Janša and the presenter Gobec) and contributing to a great symbolic/defining power of institutionalized political actors. The narrowing of the debate to the sphere of “legitimate controversy” represented by partisan politics has led to the construction of the opinion or discursive corridor. The latter, ensured through the selection and treatment of “external voices”, has crucially contributed to treating the problem as a mere sequence of events and the complete symbolical marginalization of all views that fall outside the parliamentary mainstream and its interests.