PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
TV mediates viewers' perceptions
© 1999 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations About the author

When we watch television, we see only what the camera operators and director have chosen to let us see and hear only what the audio engineers and director have chosen to let us hear. We don't know what was edited out or in, nor how much the signal was processed and modified.

In video or motion picture films the camera operators and the director determine not only what is seen, but how it's seen, and this can have tremendous impact on how viewers perceive and ultimately feel about the people and events on the screen.

As an example consider a fairly common television news situation: one woman standing, facing and talking to moderate-sized group of people.

Even the choice of "cut-away" shots that are interspersed to show the audience listening to the speaker contribute to the mediated perception and predispose the audience to things in a particular light.

Who's shown? Are they men or women, young or old, well-dressed or slovenly, listening intently or bored beyond belief, ... ? Are they the kinds of people with whom the TV audience is likely to relate? Are the reactions being shown consistent with the ways the audience is expected to react, or are they intended to shape the audience's reactions?

And, beyond the basic impact of which visual content is chosen for the cut-aways, the choice of camera angles and focus make an added difference in how the person and event are perceived by viewers.

Whether the audio is crisp and clear or "muddy" and hard to understand also affects the listeners' perceptions of the speaker. It may seem overly simplistic, but research has repeatedly shown that clear, properly modulated audio that is easy to hear and understand leaves the impression that the speaker was clear and forceful in his/her thinking. In contrast, audio that is full of static or otherwise distorted, difficult to understand due to background noise, or simply presented with insufficient volume leaves the impression that the speaker was confused, uncertain, or muddled in his/her thinking

The addition of lead-in or background music can also have a dramatic impact. Music that is well known to the audience and emotionally evocative can predispose the audience to a speaker, in favorable or unfavorable ways, before he/she even begins to speak. In some instances, if the music conflicts with the message, for instance if a light-hearted and happy tune were used as a lead-in to a somber or tragic message, it can totally reshape the way in which the situation will be perceived.


This is a small sampling of the effects and impact composition, camera angles, framing, and audio "sweetening" can have on an audience's perception of a person or event. Skilled directors spend years mastering these techniques. Public relations practitioners who want to manage images also need to learn more about them.

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22 Sept 2013