Agenda setting describes, the powerful influence that the media has over the public. It is the “ability of the news media to influence the importance placed on the topics of the public agenda”. Not only do we get information about public affairs, but viewers also learn just how much importance to place on a topic based on the emphasis placed on it in the news. (McCombs, 2002) The agenda setting theory talks about the connection between the significance that the mass media place on a particular problem /issue and the public response (Littlejohn and Foss,2009). In other words, the public will only consider something important is the mass media consider it important.
There two theories that are associated with agenda setting. This are priming and framing. Priming is a theory that was first introduced by Shanto Iyengar, Mark Peters and Donald Kinder (1982). It is the understanding that mass media provided the background information on a particular issue/ problem for the public to hear and discuss. This could be seen through the constant display certain information (videos, images and posts) based on a particular problem in order to ensure the audience are aware and alert to what’s going on around them. For example, if you take a look at the media coverage before a big sporting event such as the FIFA world cup or the Olympics, it is clear to see that they are making it difficult for their viewers to miss this event. This is a very aggressing style of reporting/ advertising as the most people who view these adverts may not necessarily be avid sports funs but because they often see news about the sports they might take an interested.
Framing is a theory based on Erving Goffman (1974) it is the belief that the mass media provides both the stetting and the line of focus on a particular story, through this they directly influencing the audiences understanding or perceptron of the story. This is best seen in the news, we only know how bad a situation is based on what we are told by the journalists. When framing occurs, they do not necessarily expect the audience make discuses but instead expect the audience to accept the massage given to them similar to the outdated hypodermic needle theory. Through a certain way of reporting the media might present a story in a way that may set the view (frame it) for their viewers.
Since the early 90s, theorists such Max McCombs and Donald Shaw, have been investigating how our use of media has impacted public knowledge and attitudes. In 1968 they tried to assess the relationship between what voters considered to be important issues, in comparison to what content the media used during the political campaigns (Cohen,1963). McCombs and Shaw concluded, that the media has as significant influence in the in altering the public perception on what is important during the political. Following the discovery of this theory, other theorists have used the theory as ground work to develop many new findings on how exactly media primes (Media provide a context for public discussion of an issue, setting the stage for audience understanding) and frames (Media provide a focus and environment for reporting a story, influencing how audiences will understand or evaluate it) issues for their viewers. The discussion into agenda setting also covers on how the mass media describes and illustrates events for their viewers (Matsaganis and Payne,2005). This could be best during the US elections. As some media houses covered the now president Trump in a positive light (Fox news) and some in a negative view.
Most research into agenda setting has had two main focuses, firstly the media doesn’t reflect reality, and secondly, because mass media only focuses on only a few global and local issues their viewers might begin to believe that these select topics are in fact they are more important than others. Today, media can influence our lives even more as we are now exposed to more media products this could explain the 2016 US presidential elections, the focus on the Ebola outbreak and even the Brexit referendum. (Iyengar and Kinder, 1987) believed that the influence that mass media have on their viewers may happen intentionally or unintentionally in some cases, as they did not necessarily expect to have the reactions that they did when initially discussing an issue. There is little doubt that mass media influences and shape the interests of its viewers, but how exactly are agendas set and influenced?
Just who is responsible for setting the media agenda? Research was done, into this topic by McCombs and Shaw. They came up with the conclusion that the public agenda influences the media agenda. They believe that the mass media to an extent, must follow the demands of the public or the media audiences’ interests. Evidence that mass media must follow public interests is through ratings and reviews, audience’s studies and market research (Littlejohn and Foss, 2009). This is an acceptable saying because mass media held to account by the surroundings of business and market, this business sectors are driven by the publics wants and demands. If something goes against the public interest/agenda it is bound to fail. The mass media are obliged to response to what their audiences want, in order to attract their viewers allowing them to sell the product (Krugman,1963). Other theorists suggest that the agenda setting can be set up by politicians (Walgrave and Aelst, 2006). Researchers believe that there is a role that the government plays in promoting the political policy’s through the agenda setting of mass media. This is heavily agreeable when it comes to election periods or political agenda (Rogers and Dearing,1988).
Due to the increased interconnectedness of the world we have become increasingly aware of all the news from different areas of the world. Although, it up to the media to control what the public hear and see based on that exactly they consider to be important. This principal that outlines the influence of the media was talked about by Walter Lippmann in his book Public Opinion (1922), which was headlined by the first chapter “The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads.” In this chapter he discussed the idea that the pictures in our heads about the outer world are all fed to us by the media. He when on to say that all we know about the world Is what the media decide to show us through there different publications and shows. Due to this highly mediated world view depicted by the mass media our priority’s and views often resemble what the priorities of the media are.
Bernard Cohen (1963) believes that mass media doesn’t tell you (the viewer) what to think about something but instead he believes that the mass media tells you what to think about. This means that the media responsible is to solely deliver information to the public, and not interfere with the opinions of its viewers. On the other hand, opposing to Cohen’s believes, following studies have shown that indeed the mass media can actually influence the audiences line of thought. This means that mass media does contribute to forming the audience’s opinions. (McCombs, Shaw, 1972)
The agenda of a news media could be found in the patterns of coverage on public issues over some period of time. Over this period of time, some issues are emphasized, to reflect the importance places on the story, other stories get light coverage, and so many stories are never even mentioned or covered only once. The public agenda or in other word the focus of public attention is assessed by opinion polls that ask some variation of the long-standing question, “What is the most important problem facing this country today?”. Through such questions the media can alter their reports to suit what the public consider important. To measure the significance the public agenda has on the media agenda you would need to study the media agenda in the weeks preceding these opinions.
Many do argue that the medias agenda my not do not give a true representation on what is going in in the world. this could be illustrated through the Agenda setting function theory model where the true perception of reality is received by the gatekeepers and influential media houses who then set the agenda. But before setting the agenda they decide which stories are important and should be given coverage. In fact, it could be argued by doing so the integrity of news corporations could be undermined, “the British press features too many negative and irrelevant news stories that don’t accurately reflect what’s going on in the world” (Lewis, 2012). This leads to the audience’s perception of reality to change and may not necessarily reflect actual reality.
The agenda-setting power of the media is not only limited focusing public attention on a topic, but the media also have the power to influence our understanding and perspective on the topics in the news. Thinking about agenda as an abstract term, the medias influence on public opinion can be seen a lot clearly. From the abstract point of view, items that defines the media agenda be can be seen as objects. The are several items or topics, such as political candidate’s agendas such as Trump or public issues such as global warming or war. In this case the objects are the things that the media and public are focused on. Each as objective have different attributed and characteristics. Some of these an attribute is emphasized, and others are not mentioned. This is another aspect of the agenda-setting role the media have.
This thesis was set out to explain just how the media agendas are set and influences and I have come up with several answers. I have found that the mass media does influence the opinions of the audience and public at a large scale, this is clearly done through agenda setting on certain subjects or agendas.
Although theorists have not reach a conclusive debate as some believe that mass media does not have the ability to influence the line of thought of its viewers, on the other hand other, theorist such as McCombs believe the influential power of mass media is big as they are capable of making it viewers think a certain way. Although there are certain limitations to how wide spread the media agenda- set reach because if people don’t have access to mass media. The fester that people receive information through their phones and other means, the more influential the mass media is on the public. This means that the media is becoming more influential in recent years due to the growing use of smart phones. The genders set by the mass media does not always direct represent how reality actual is. This could be due to the obligation that mass media houses have to meet the demands of the public. Meaning that they will only share information that the public what to here. Through this it is clear to see that the medias agenda can be easily influenced by a few factors, firstly, by the public and by the government. The government can use mass media to spread their policy’s ensuring that the public hear and accept them. This can be best seen during periods of elections and referendums.