Hello again, my lovely people. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Let’s get back to it then.
Today’s post is all about the Agenda Setting theory. This theory was developed based on the notion that the media has the ability to transfer the priority of certain information to the public. The understanding is that the emphasis that media places on certain topics has the capacity to affect people in different ways – though that isn’t to say it directly causes us to feel a particular way about the topic.
The people most affected by agenda setting are said to have high need for orientation and a high index of curiosity. You’ve heard of curiosity killing the cat, right? This concept is similar.
The media frames the ideas in such a way that they are the providers of context concerning what the issue is and how we ought to focus on it. It’s sort of like how we tell kids that cartoons can brainwash them, but for grown-ups. Anyone who has a hand in compiling the data on a topic and presenting it to the public has a hand in setting the media agenda – since they are the ones who show us what to think about, then transfer their own thoughts on the topic as well.
In the Real World…
I really can’t help but use this example because it’s the most recent and excellent example that comes to mind (I wonder if that was part of the media agenda…)
I live in a small Caribbean island called Barbados. Our cable networks (and the internet too) provide the Barbadian public with access to American news networks like Fox, NBC, ABC, etc.
That means that just like most of the world (or maybe all of it) we could tune in and see what was happening in the USA.
I had promised myself at the beginning of the election that I wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole. Pie-crust promise it was – easily made, easily broken. The elections were EVERYWHERE! It was so impossible to get away from them. It still is! I notice a few things:
- Whatever Trump did or said was urgent. You ever noticed how just about everything he said made the headlines? The news discussion somehow, much to my absolute chagrin, always came back to him.
- The news networks (and countless talk show hosts) provided the main focus and environment of the campaign. Looking back, so many news articles and evening stories came back to how extremist and radical a candidate Donald Trump was. I’m not going to get into the content of his talks by any means; I’m just saying take a look at all the instances where media houses called him any kind of discriminatory.
- We were primed for the US elections. That, my friends, is the truth. Every time elections roll around you just can’t miss the barrage of campaign ads and “*Insert Name Here* for President” gimmicks we see. And all of a sudden we are all political analysts glued to our televisions and radios.
- Donald Trump still won. That sounds obvious, but I’m making a point that’s a little more between the lines here. Just because he was the “extremist candidate” with no political background, and the media intended to portray him as such, he still won the election. Correlation doesn’t equate to causation. Yeah, the media present a view that was popular in the public, but members of the public still exercise free will over how they think.
Fulfilling the Theoretical Agenda…
Since AST falls under the socio-psychological tradition, we need to evaluate it as a scientific theory. Let’s start with the positives:
AST predicts that the public’s agenda for the salience of attitude objects and key attributes will follow the media’s lead, and explain’s why some persons are more susceptible to these effects than others.
It can be tested by using content analysis of media content to establish media agenda and comparing it to the public agenda ascertained through surveys. News producers can use this information to their benefit. Clifford Christians looks at the fact that the media has tremendous power in the world. He says that if this is truly the case then members of the media should uphold their social responsibility to maintain public morality and humanity. That’s some heavy stuff.
With great power comes great responsibility.
My take is this. Since this theory was made in an era where print media were more dominantly used, the advent of social media should bring about more attempts at researching.
Cyndi, the Theory Analyst