Production and reception in British television documentary : a genre-based analysis of mass-mediated communication
This thesis explores the nature of communication in television documentary, based on an investigation of production, reception and their interrelationship. It assumes that social context is fundamental to an understanding of mass communication. Doise's (1986) levels of analysis (intrapersonal; interpersonal/situational; positional; cultural/ideological) provide the framework for conceptualizing social context. Audience reception research, which appreciates viewers' active role in reception and influence on production, inspires the qualitative approach. Whilst these premises challenge a traditional transmission approach to mass communication, the thesis argues against simultaneously rejecting the concept of information transmission. The thesis is located within a ritual approach to communication (Carey, 1989), exploring the potential for information transmission by extending this approach to situational and positional levels. As a distinctive information genre, the television documentary is perfect for investigating transmission. In this endeavour, the thesis explores the assumptions of both broadcasters and audiences concerning the function, structure and content of documentary communication. The methodological structure comprises three qualitative studies - production context, reception context and a case study. The production study involves twenty one interviews with television documentary broadcasters and establishes two intersecting dimensions embracing their perspectives. The reception study includes eight focus group discussions, and finds documentary expectations differing by socio-economic status and gender. These studies provide the context for analysing the nature of communication in one documentary programme, "Parental Choice", comparing a producer interview with four audience focus group discussions. The results highlight a lack of awareness amongst broadcasters of the varying genre-specific criteria used by documentary audiences in programme interpretation. Information transmission is possible if viewers accept a documentary's credibility. However, perceptions of credibility vary at the situational and positional levels, thus transmission is limited and ritually-based. The emerging nature of documentary communication contributes to academic debate on mass communication, audience research and the television documentary genre.