In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in anews story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues. Many issues exist on mass media like pollution, terrorism and high cost of living. These issues make up the media agenda. The basic studies on media agenda researches are focused on detecting the process of news production which is a compound of how media selects news stories from many issues in the real life, how news stories are produced and how the media content is presented. McCombs and Shaw who are the theorists of agenda setting theory, focused on the two elements; awareness and information in 1968 presidential election campaign. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to evaluate the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of media messages used during the campaign be the major issues of the campaign . Nevertheless there are criticisms on this theory. This essay will critique the agenda-setting concept of the mass media and communication.
Agenda setting theory is about the influence of mass media on the public focus attention
who and what people are thinking about. McCombs and Shaw (1997:705) says that agenda setting examines the media effect on the perceived importance of issues held by public. In other words, agenda setting refers to the media’s capability, through repeated news coverage, of raising the importance of an issue in the public’s mind. Further study has classified agenda setting into two levels which are; first-level agenda setting and second-level agenda setting. First-level agenda setting or traditional agenda setting deals with issue or object salience, that is, how media put certain subjects on the public agenda is the level that is most traditionally studied by researchers. In this level the media uses objects or issues to influence the public. In this level the media suggest what the public should think about and that is in regard to the amount of coverage. This level the media focuses on the characteristics of the objects or issues. In this level the media suggest how the people should think about the issue. examines attribute salience, how descriptions of aspects of the object or issue are transferred from media to receiver. Huckins (1999:76) says that it builds upon the idea that an agenda is an abstract notion and that many things other than issues could be items on the list. This is usually done by magnifying some aspects of the story in most cases using bold fonts, using bright colour and even the layout because some other stories are on the front page and others not.
Agenda setting can be explained as the media’s attempt to create and transfer salient issues into the public domain to enable the public to discuss, deliberate, or debate on these issues to make informed decisions. McCombs and Shaw in 1972 argued that the media makes certain political, economic and social salient issues in the society. The main objective of this theory is to talk about the assumption that the media through its productive processes and gatekeeping functions gives prominence to certain socio-political issues while neglecting others of similar importance. There are two types of strategies of media agenda setting: framing and priming. Framing was used to analyse how the media presents issues to the public. Framing is the quality form of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another. It is a skill that most successful leaders possess yet one that is not often taught. From statement about the importance and interpretations people attach to potential items on the public agenda are strongly influenced by how the media presents stories .The media in an indirect and unconscious way position our minds whether we like it or not. The minds of the audience are directed on specific issues we tend to discuss or ponder about for hours, days or even years. Some of these issues of less importance are given much attention while others fall by the wayside. The media and politicians shape public opinions on what is considered important in this time and day.
The media adapts certain methods or techniques which are used to draw the attention of the audience on the issues under discussion or forthcoming issues. Some of these issues provide the audience with a ‘window’ of viewing the world or reality. These eye catching issues which are mostly captured in headlines and on front pages, sometimes do not have any connection with the main articles or content of the newsletter. Pictures attached to these headlines are very disturbing especially in most private owned newspapers and magazines. The human mind tends to store most of the things the eyes are exposed to. The agenda setting theory in recent times is viewed as having latent reasons aside its main function.
Priming is a concept through which the media effects among people are enhanced by providing a basic perception human minds take decisions based on the preconceptions that are already in store the memory of a human being. Priming enables the audience to evaluate the situation and to conclude how effective the media has been in order to make a decision, so media creates an influence among people to make judgement on a decision. Priming is an important concept in media effects. As agenda-setting brings out only the importance of the issue, priming offers explanation on how the information from the media is stored. Media affect judgement or behaviour by stimulating the associating thoughts which are caused due the mental relationships created inside the memory. Priming is used to evaluate media effects among the people. As it is a media centred world, the studies regarding the media effects are vital. During elections as pointed out by the campaigns are used to emphasise certain issues and how it influences the people in choosing the right candidate.
Agenda setting occurs through a cognitive process known as accessibility, which implies that the more frequent and prominent the news media covers an issue, the more that issue becomes accessible in the audience’s memory. Firstly, agenda-setting is the media’s attempt to create and transfer salient issues into the public domain to enable the public to discuss, deliberate or debate on these issues to make informed decisions. Basically, agenda-setting talks about how the mass media pay attention or highlight certain issues while neglecting others. This theory fails to address certain pertinent issues which are also of similar importance. The agenda-setting theory assumes that if people are exposed to the same media content, they will place importance on the same issues. This assumption is not true. People have different frames of reference, and therefore what one may consider important after filtering the issues through his frame of reference is different from the other person’s. People are therefore not always likely to place importance on the same issues even if they are all exposed to the same media content.
Secondly, this theory fails to consider the personal interest of the individual. Any issue considered salient by the mass media and put in the public domain will not necessarily be considered salient by the public. The audience consciously choose a media product that gives him gratification or that addresses his needs and it is such issues he may consider to be salient. This theory assumes that once the media considers any issue to be salient and give it dominance, the public automatically regards the issue as salient. The public only considers such issues salient if they personally have interest in them. In such situation, one cannot claim that the issues are considered salient by the audience simply because the media regard them as salient, but rather because they serve the interest of the public.