In Sweden the 1980´s marked a process of questioning and restructuring the welfare economy and the public sector, accelerating in the crisis years of the early 1990´s.
The main purpose of the present study is twofold: ( i ) To describe the ways in which the Swedish television news channels have reported states and changes of the economy in the period from 1980 to 1995. ( ii ) To map the content of television news as an audio-visual textual system, thereby identifying its functions of defining economy as an object of knowledge.
Three theoretical perspectives have informed the design of the study. The first perspective leans on Habermas´ theory of the public sphere and his theory of communicative action. The second perspective is based on Foucault's theory of discursive power. A third theoretical perspective deals with the specific qualities of television as a producer and mediator of knowledge. A semiotic approach is applied.
Varying methods of textual analysis are used to study the news reports of the presentation of the Swedish State budget, on six occasions, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1992 and 1995. 313 news items, recoded into 462 thematic units form the main empirical material. A distinction is made between the thematic and rhetorical dimensions of the news content.
The analysis of the thematic qualities shows the main characteristics of the news reports, in terms of topics and content bias, news categories and actors. The rhetorical qualities of the budget news and economic reports are analysed from three perspectives. The study of editorial strategies shows the different positioning of news journalists, ranging from higher to lower degree of authority and dominance over sources. In a perspective of signification, textual and representational forms are analysed, interpreting the dominating audio-visual modes according to a dichotomy of metonymy and metaphor. Oppositions between verbal and visual expressions are important to the functions of the televised news text, and affect definitions of "the economy", the actors of "politics", and the activities and power of "the market".
In an audience perspective, the forms of address, the subject positions and the rationality of the budget news are analysed. Typical "we"-forms of the early 1980´s reappear strongly in the news reports of the 1990´s, implying a shared position of journalists and audience. The participation of experts is crucial to media constructions of know- ledge. A marked transformation of the expert discourse is observable. Professional economists have gained increased authority and presence, parallel to a withdrawal of political actors.
In the period 1980-1995 the news journalism of Swedish public service television has contributed to a particular mediated version, "the televised economy", as the basis for public knowledge of economy and economic policy. In conclusion, this contribution is a combination of ( i ) a certain journalist advance in relation to sources; ( ii ) a bias of rationality which favours simplifications and media perspectives; ( iii ) the particular priorities of meanings constructed in the audio-visual text; and ( iv) its dual constructions of audiences and citizens.