Finding out about the world from television news | IELTS Academic Reading Sample Question

The passage contains the following question types from IELTS Reading Question Types:

  • Summary Completion
  • True False Not Given

Finding out about the world from television news

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-14 which are based on Reading Passage

Finding out about the world from
television news

In The Ideological Octopus (1991). Justin Lewis points to an important issue concerning the  formal structure of television news. As he notes, television news lacks the narrative element which, in other genres, serves to capture viewer interest and thus motivate viewing. Lewis posits this as one of the key reasons why television news often fails to interest people and why. when they do watch it. people often cannot understand it. Lewis argues that one fundamental problem with watching television news is that its narrative structure means that the viewer is offered the punchline before the joke – because the main point (the headline) comes right at the beginning, after which the programme, by definition, deals with less and less important things. Thus, in television news our interest is not awakened by an enigma which is then gradually solved, to provide a gratifying solution – as so often happens in fictional narratives. In Lewis’s terms, in television news there is no enigma, the solution of which will motivate the viewing process. As he baldly states, ‘If we decided to try to design a television programme with a structure that would completely fail to capture an audience’s interest, we might (finally) come up with the format of the average television news show’ (Lewis 1991).

What Lewis also does is offer an interesting contrast, in this respect, between the high-status phenomenon of television news and the low-status genre of soap opera. The latter, he observes, offers the most highly developed use of effective narrative codes. To that extern soap opera, with its multiple narratives, could be seen, in formal terms, as the most effective type of television for the cultivation of viewer interest, and certainly as a far more effective form than that of television news for this purpose. Clearly, some of Lewis’s speculation here is problematic. There are counter­examples of his arguments (e.g. instances of programmes such as sports news which share the problematic formal features he points to but which are nonetheless popular – at least among certain types of viewers). Moreover, he may perhaps overstress the importance of structure as against content relevance in providing the basis for programme appeal. Nonetheless, I would suggest that his argument, in this respect, is of considerable interest.

Lewis argues not only that soap opera is more narratively interesting than television news, in formal terms, but. moreover, that the world of television fiction in general is much closer to most people’s lives than that presented in the news. This, he claims, is because the world of television fiction often feels to people like their own lives. They can, for example, readily identify with the moral issues and personal dilemmas faced by the characters in a favourite soap opera. Conversely, the world of television news is much more remote in all senses; it is a socially distant world populated by another race of special or ‘elite’ persons, the world of them not ‘tis\ This is also why ‘most people feel more able to evaluate TV fiction than TV news … because it seems closer to their own lives and to the world they live in …  [whereas] the world of television news might almost be beamed in fromm another planet (Lewis 1991). It is as if the distant world of ‘the news’ is so disconnected from popular experience that it is beyond critical judgement for many viewers. Hence, however alienated they feel from it, they nonetheless lack any alternative perspective on the events it portrays.

One consequence of this, Lewis argues, is that precisely, because of this distance, people who feel this kind of alienation from the ‘world news’ nonetheless use frameworks to understand news iterms which come from within the news themselves. This, he argues, is because in the absence of any other source of information or perspective they are forced back on using the media’s own framework. Many viewers are simply unable to place the media’s portrayal of events in any other critical framework (where would they get it from?). To this extent, Lewis argues. Gerbner and his colleagues (see Gerbner et al. 1986; Signorielli and Morgan 1990) may perhaps be right in thinking that the dominant perspectives and ‘associative logics’ offered by the media may often simply be soaked up by audiences by sheer dint of their repetition. This is not to suggest that such viewers necessarily believe, or explicitly accept, these perspectives, but simply to note that they have no other place to start from, however cynical they may be, at a general level, about not believing what you see on television’, and they may thus tend, in the end. to fall back on ‘what it said on TV’. In one sense, this could be said to be the converse of Hall’s negotiated code’ (1980), as taken over from Parkin (1973). Parkin had argued, that many working-class people display a ‘split consciousness’, whereby they accept propositions from the dominant ideology at an abstract level, but then ‘negotiate’ or ‘discount’ the application of these ideological propositions to the particular circumstances of their own situation. Here, by contrast, we confront a situation where people often express cynicism in general (so that Hot believing what you see in the media’ is no more than common sense), but then in any particular case they often find themselves pushed back into reliance on the mainstream media’s account of anything beyond the realm of their direct personal experience, simply for lack of any alternative perspective.

Questions 1—8

Complete the summary below using words from the box. Write your answers in boxes 1-8 on your answer sheet.
The structure of television news.

Justin Lewis says that television news does not have the 1) …………………..feature that other types of the programme have. As a result, many viewers do not find it interesting and may find it  2)………………………………… This is because the 3) ……………………….information comes first and after that 4) ………………………………… matters are covered, in television news, there is no 5) ………………………….. progress towards a conclusion and nothing 6) ………………………………… to find out about. in fact, he believes that television news is an example of how the 7) ……………………… process in the field of television could result in something that is 8) ……………. to what constitutes an interesting programme.


Questions 9—14

Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage.;
In boxes 9—14 on your answer sheet write

TRUE                  if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE                if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN       if there is no information on this

9)  Lewis concentrates more on the structure of programmes than on what is actually in them.
10)  Lewis regrets viewers’ preference for soap operas over television news.
11)  Lewis suggests that viewers sometimes find that television news contradicts their knowledge of the world.
12)  Lewis believes that viewers have an inconsistent attitude towards the reliability of television news.
13)  Parkin states that many working class people see themselves as exceptions to general beliefs.
14)  The writer of the text believes that viewers should have a less passive attitude towards what they are told by the media.

Answers for IELTS Reading Sample Question

1) Answer: story-telling
Note This has the same meaning as ‘narrative’ in the text.

2) Answer: confusing
Note People ‘cannot understand’ television news, which means they find it confusing.

3) Answer: crucial
Note The text states that ‘the main point (the headline) comes right at the beginning’. This means that the most important (crucial) information comes first.

4) Answer: secondary
Note The text states that ‘less and less important things’ come next. ‘Secondary’ means ‘of less importance’.

5) Answer: step-by-step
Note The text refers to fiction having something that is gradually solved’. This means that it is solved in stages, not all at once; ‘step-by-step progress’ is progress involving various stages towards a final result.

6) Answer: mysterious
Note The text says that ‘there is no enigma’ in television news. An enigma is something that people do not understand or find strange but are fascinated by or very interested in; ‘mysterious’ means strange and interesting.

7) Answer: creative
Note The text refers to people trying to ‘design’ a television programme, which means have the ideas for and create one. The ‘creative’ process therefore refers to designing a programme.

8) Answer: contrary
Note The text is saying that if people actually tried to create a programme that had all the features a programme should not have, they would design the television news; in other words, television news has all the features a programme should not have. It Is therefore completely different from what an interesting programme is like. ‘Contrary to’ means ‘completely different from’ or ‘opposite to’.

9) Answer: TRUE
Note 2″‘- paragraph: The writer of the text says that there are problems with Lewis’s theories; there are ‘counter-examples of his arguments’ (examples which suggest that his theories are not correct), and he concentrates too much on the ‘formal features’ of programmes rather than on the important matter of their content.

10) Answer: NOT GIVEN
Note 3rd paragraph: Lewis says that people prefer soap operas to television news because their own lives have more in common with what happens in soap operas than with what they see on television news. They can ‘identify with’ people in soap operas, but television news presents them with a world that is ‘remote’ and ‘distant1 and they feel ‘disconnected’ from what happens in it. However, we are not told that he thinks it is a pity that this is the case; we are not told whether or not he gives a view on whether this is a good or bad thing.

11) Answer: FALSE
Note 3rd and last paragraph: According to Lewis, the television news could come ‘from another planet’ as far as many viewers are concerned. It shows them a ‘distant world’ that is ‘disconnected from’ their own experience of life. They feel ‘alienated’ from it but have no ‘alternative perspective’ to use in order to evaluate what they see. This means that they have no personal knowledge or experience that is useful to them when watching the news. The problem is not that the news differs completely from (contradicts) what they have experienced, it is that It has no relationship with what they know or have experienced.

12) Answer: TRUE
Note Last paragraph: ‘This is not to suggest…’.Lewis says that people talk about ‘not believing what you see on television’ and have a generally ‘cynical’ attitude to it, but that they also ‘fall back on what it said on TV’ (use or rely on because they have nothing else to use or rely on). In other words, they have an inconsistent attitude (one that changes at different times) – they say they don’t believe what they see on television news, but in fact they do believe it because they have no knowledge or experience that would enable them to know it is wrong.

13) Answer: TRUE
Note Last paragraph: ‘Parkin had argued Parkin says that working-class people ‘accept propositions from the dominant ideology at an abstract level’ (in theory, they accept the beliefs that are most commonly held in their culture), but in practice, they find ways in which these beliefs do not have to apply to them in their own lives (in the ‘particular circumstances of their own situation’). They therefore regard themselves as exceptions to these general rules.

14) Answer: NOT GIVEN
Note Last paragraph: In the last sentence, the writer says that people tend to disbelieve the media in general, but that on every individual matter that arises they are ‘pushed back into reliance on’ (forced to rely on) what the media are saying, because they have no way of proving that it is untrue. He is therefore saying that they are forced to be passive consumers of the media, but he does not say that they are wrong in this or that there is anything they can do about it.

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