Listening to Suffering: What does Proper Distance have to do with Radio News?

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This article investigates whether Roger Silverstone’s notion of ‘proper distance’ provides the conceptual tools which are needed to assess the qualitative nature of radio listeners’ responses to mediated representations of suffering – a vital issue in radio research, given the dependence of most critical theory about journalistic depictions of suffering on ideas of the visual.

Specifically, it seeks to address practitioners’ and theorists’ concerns about the impact of framing on audience reactions, by using an audience study to examine whether beginning a series of packages of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a ‘human interest’ interview generated different kinds of responses to those generated when other kinds of framing methods were used. The series, which was broadcast on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, produced one of the greatest volumes of audience response in the programme’s history.

But rather than recommending ‘proper distance’ as the best theoretical tool with which to explore this phenomenon, this article advocates caution: questioning the ‘workability’ of Silverstone’s ideas, their cross-cultural applicability, and their sensitivity to empirical evidence about radio listening
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-302
Issue number3
Early online date16 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2012


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