Research Papers

The Role of Media Research Paper

The news media have a vital role of not only informing the public concerning policy changes, but also helping them understand the policies to give their opinions. In political contexts where the governments offer citizens sovereign power, media can influence the decisions the public make, thus influence voting results. In this light, media channels play an essential role in influencing a policy-making process, especially during controversial debates in countries across the globe. During the making and implementation of policies on price crisis, illegal immigration, or mechanisms for gun control, the domestic and international press engages the public to find statistics of the opinion of the majority. The media publishes reports, identifies major stakeholders and interviews them, collects experts’ opinions, or conducts interviews from the public. The goal of this paper is to craft an argument to find the role of media in shaping public policy, when assessed across the lens of two theoretical frameworks in public policy.

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The theory of agenda setting and the theory of change provide excellent mechanisms for assessing the role of media in policy making processes. The discussion will focus on the function of media in making, and implementation of major policies in the United States such as, immigration crisis and guns on campus. Throughout the paper, we shall connect the role of media with collected empirical evidence from scholarly literature materials to assess the theory that suits the policy most. The discussion is relevant for international and national policy-making bodies in need of understanding the role of media coverage during the making and implementation of major policies across states. It shall also determine how the structure of specific political systems determines the extent to which media can influence policy making processes.

Through news media, the public acquires relevant information and updates of the trends within the country and across the globe. News media refers to those elements of mass media whose role is to send news to the target public (Science Daily, 2019). These communication channels help disseminate news, entertainment, promotional messages, or education data and may include narrowcasting or broadcasting mediums such as televisions, radios, magazines, or the internet. In this light, media is integral parts of the life of most members of the society because it assists generate interest over debates concerning social problems. From a public policy perspective, mass media constructs messages with specific values and disseminates them to a particular segment of the public to achieve a specified goal. Examining the role of media across theories of public policy helps reveal media participation in decision making processes. The theory of agenda setting and theory of change are integral in evaluating the role of media in shaping public policy. By giving the necessary information, media helps citizens to participate in political debates. In essence, from the point of view of public policy, media acts as an intermediary between citizens and the government. Through media, citizens learn the impacts of major government policies towards them. On the other hand, governments gain feedback from the public concerning the policies and programs. According to the Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the European Union, “the media acts as the primary conduit between those who want to influence policy and policymakers controlling the scope of political discourse and regulating the flow of information” (Christian, 2013). Media participates throughout the process of policymaking. It is present during problem identification, devising solutions, and adopting policies, implementing and performing final evaluations. By acting as an intermediary between citizens and the government, media ensures the public handles the government accountable for all policies influencing the social, political and economic performance of a country. In this case, through the participation, media fulfills a major role of powerful political actor through influencing social changes within a society. The theory of agenda setting provides an essential theoretical framework for examining the role of media in shaping public policy.

Media in the Contemporary Society
In this paper, media is subdivided into three categories including print media, broadcast or electronic, and the new-age or social media. Print media refers to information printed on paper materials and circulated as physical copies in form of newsletters, newspapers, magazines and brochures. These materials not only hold entertainment content, but also informative one with special interest to the target audience. Although print media has become outdated, a significant portion of the public still prefers to read the regular newspapers or magazines which make the media of imperative influence to the public.

The electronic and broadcast media incorporates the use of radio stations and televisions to air information to the public. The category of broadcast media is integral in public policy because of its ability to reach a substantial segment of the public. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting highlights, “the purpose of public media is to provide programs and services that inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich the public and help inform civil discourse essential to American society” (Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 2017). The Corporation thus ensures universal access to quality content, and telecommunication services for citizens across the United States.

The digital social media has provided the public with essential platforms to acquire news. The internet has slowly transformed the news media because of the continued technological advancement. Unlike the traditional print and broadcast media, social media platforms form essential channels for transmitting information in the form of text, video or audio making it surpass the traditional media methods. From a public policy perspective, digital tools provide effective mechanisms that allow people interact, thus provides essential mechanisms for collection of feedback concerning the opinion of the public over significant policies.

Literature Review
Empirical research plays a significant role in creating influence in public policy. The International Development Research Centre (2016) highlights that; research has major influence in public policy. Qualitative and quantitative methodologists have engaged in examining the participation of media throughout the policy making processes. A literature review from the context of public policy is imperative in determining how theoretical frameworks elucidate the role of media in implementation of public policies.

Zain (2014) explores the Agenda Setting Theory by considering the role mass media plays in influencing settings of specific image on public’s mind. The author asserts, “From their research, McCombs and Shaw found out that mass media did have certain percentage on those members of the public who frequently referred to information as provided by the media” (p. 1). The more enthusiastic the followers were, the more the influence mass media created to the individuals. After the McCombs and Shaw’s findings, an exceeding 350 research was conducted to examine the influence of the agenda setting theory. Zain reports some of the later established work including the one done by “Lippmann (1922); Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet (1948) and Shaw (1972)”. Zain’s literature plays a significant role of examining the agenda setting theory and identifying the relationship between inter-media building and the theory.

Zain explains the significance of conducting the study on agenda setting theory by exploring its role in exposing the realities behind the role mass media plays to influence the opinion of the public. The role of mass media exceeds providing information to the public; as it assists them scrutinize information offered through these mediums. Zain’s literature unveils exploring relationship between mass media and public policy as an undeniably important coursework. The study further explores interrelationships between different media types. Zain’s literature emphasize that public should learn to distinguish accurate and reliable information from the rest. In this light, the public has to identify the reliable sources of information to avoid being misled by mass media.

In exploring the theory, Zain avers, “the public agenda is the main focus or prime issue which the members of the society or public concern about”. The theory begins by explaining the contribution of mass media in affecting changes in the patterns of political behaviors during elections. It comes as an inspiration as it leads to development of further hundreds of literature exploring the role media plays in framing issues for the audience. Zain calls upon the target audience to hold mass media responsible for influencing and shaping the opinions and agenda of the public.

The media agenda has a direct correlation with the public agenda. Zain postulates, “To a certain extent, the mass media have to follow the demands of the public or media audiences’ interests”. Key stakeholders in mass media have relevant connection to the political surroundings which are primarily driven from interests of public agenda and of the public. In this light, mass media responds to the preferences of the public depending on what they know. However, politicians and public relations practitioners can also set up agenda settings. During electioneering periods, the governments play a role to promote policies through mass media’s agenda setting.

Zain reports the controversy authors present in identifying the impact of media participation in influencing public agenda. The author reports an early researcher, Bernard Cohen, who “believes that mass media only tell on what to think about and not on what to think”. In this case, mass media assumes responsibility for only delivering information and not on setting the opinions of the target audiences. Contrary to the opinion is the notion that mass media influences the thoughts of the audience. Directly or indirectly, mass media shapes the opinion of the audience. This controversy offers extension to the scope of the discussion about agenda setting. From the theory of agenda setting’s point of view, the audience views the issues that mass media raises as important and influential.

While exploring the concept of ‘Inter-Media Building’ Zain’s literature classifies media into; the old media and the new media. The literature refers to old media as any mass communication that existed before the invention of internet and digital devices. Since the new media delivers information faster, and is easily accessible, it makes larger contribution to setting public agenda than traditional mass media. The author lists down the major factors contributing in inter-media building that influence mass media agenda such as speed, accessibility, and popularity. The faster and more convenient the device is, the faster the mass media sets the agenda.

Zain’s literature has explored the role mass media plays in influencing opinions of media audiences and the public at large. Zain also highlights that critics question the theory to understand how directly and the extent in which media sets a public agenda. The literature emphasizes the need for mass media to offer the public accurate and reliable information to evaluate the facts and form individual opinions concerning the issue at hand. The author considers the step imperative in preventing the society or other media audiences from solely depending on the information mass media provides.

The Alvernia University also makes important publication on the discussion concerning the role of media in shaping public policy. The literature ‘The Agenda-Setting Theory in Mass Communication’ covers the theory’s core assumptions, types of agenda setting, the criticisms and the media public relationship (Alvernia University, 2018). The literature holds that mass media has a primary role of providing viewers with facts and information necessary for what is happening in the political arena.

News media assume a frontline in covering major news within the United States. The Alvernia University’s (2018) publication notes, “Whether it’s the President of the United States making an announcement or a severe storm battering a region, when it’s a story that affects people, the news media is on alert to cover it”. Mass media thus becomes an inseparable component of the United States’ society.

The agenda setting theory works under two basic assumptions in considering the role of media in shaping public opinion. “The first is that the media filters and shapes what we see rather than just reflecting stories to the audience” (Avernia University). Media platforms give sensational stories a priority and view stories that happened recently a last view with an intention of gaining more viewers in the news channel. “The second assumption is that the more attention the media gives to an issue, the more likely the public will consider that issue to be important” (Alvernia University). The literature explains that mass media organizations do not give the audience what to think about an issue, but they offer stories that people need to think more about. The literature offers the agenda-setting theory a scientific and psychological merit, as the extent of recognition of a hot debate to the public depends on the extent into which mass media publicizes it. The literature provides mass media organizations as ones with a noble duty to bring issues to public even though the employees in the mass media have not registered them as prominent issues in their minds.

The agenda setting is classified into three categories. The public agenda setting refers to the context in which the public has to decide on the agenda of stories to be considered significant. In a media-agenda setting, mass media determines the stories with high priorities. In a policy agenda setting, the media cooperates with the public to influence the decisions of the policymakers in public opinions. The public, media, and policy makers are the key stakeholders in public policy making processes.

Similar to Zain’s literature, the Alvernia University’s piece highlights lack of measuring unit as a major limitation of the agenda setting theory. Although empirical researchers have engaged in research to establish causal association between media coverage and public prominence, most of the research work has remained inconclusive. In the contemporary society where social media and internet has attained intense worldwide influence, the agenda setting theory may not satisfactorily convince the audience that mass media sets the agenda for the public. The theory also fails to work for audiences who have succinctly made up their decisions. A voter who believes the elected official was a right choice would not fall under the influence of mass media channels.

The Communication Theory Organization’s literature approaches the agenda-setting theory from a different perspective. The literature presents two levels of the agenda setting theory, priming, and framing (Communication Theory Organization, 2011). Media channels contribute to order of presenting news reports. Audience gain more attribute to news when media increases emphasis on them. The piece of literature holds that, media determines what the audience should think about and how they should think.

The material underlines two levels of agenda setting theory. Level one contains more empirical research than level two. In level one, mass media uses issues or objects to influence the thoughts of the public. On the contrary, in level two, media channels alter the thoughts of the public through influencing the characters of issue. Communication Theory Organization highlights gate keeping as a major concept in the discussion about agenda setting theory. The concept controls the content selected for discussion in mass media. “Public cares mostly about the product of a media gate keeping”. Through gate keeping, editors choose the news to air and what should not appear in the headlines. News media remains an integral component in making a decision of the events to be declared news-worthy.

The agenda setting theory explains holds that media proposes the standards as well as the values through which the public can judge objects of the media’s attention. “Media’s content will provide a lot of time and space to certain issues, making it more vivid”. Similar to Alvernia University’s and Zain’s literature, the Communication theory Organization’s literature agrees with the notion that media gives increased importance to news to create impression to the public that the news is the most important information. Broadcasters use headlines, expert opinions, and special new features to emphasize the weight of the news they recognize as most important. Mass media primes news by adding weight to what they consider important.

Framing is also an important concept in agenda setting theory. Communication Theory Organization gives two meanings of the framing process. First, the concept refers to the “way in which news content is typically shaped and contextualized within same frame of reference”. Secondly, framing may also refer to how the “audience adopts the frames of reference and to see the world in a similar way”. The concept helps define how people perceive importance and relevance to news from the context in which an issue is viewed. In the United States, mass media determines the weight of major issues such as a win or a loose in an election, terror attacks, or major economic crisis.

The concept of agenda setting correlates to the election campaign laws and the media environment. In the Journal of Information Policy Fortunato of Fordham University and Martin of Indiana University (2016) explores the intersection “of Agenda-Setting, the Media Environment, and Election Campaign Laws”. While the media helps people understand the political communication environment, agenda setting theory examines the transfer mechanisms of information from media agenda to public. The process of agenda setting has become an imperative tool for examining policy contexts of major general election campaigns.

In the United States, mass media has more roles than simply informing the citizens about issues within the political contexts. The Journal of Information Policy highlights the roles mass media plays as hallmarks of working democracy in the American society. Martin & Fortunato (2016) reports, “representative democracy is inconceivable without forms of mass communication-to create awareness of public issues that face a society whose members are not personally in touch with each other, and whose central institutions are remote from the people they serve to exploit”. Allowing media sufficient rights is fundamental in creation of a just, transparent, accountable and democratic American Society.

The agenda setting theory holds that, media systems must follow strategic goals to inspire democracy in the United States of America. Martin and colleague (2016) underline the goals media systems aspire in a democratic state. First, media play an essential role of providing full and fair info to allow citizens make sound decisions. Secondly, media systems form coherent frameworks which allow the public comprehend complex issues in the political universe. This calls upon media to use most appropriate methods to analyze and interpret topics in the political arena. The journal refers to media systems as common carriers of the perceptions of diversified groups within the United States. Mass mediums should prioritize on appropriate quality and quantity news depending on public demand within the states. Mass mediums have a primary agenda of representing, speaking for and to the interest of the public to hold the government accountable for states’ resources.

The agenda setting theory helps explain the empathetic role of mass media within the United States. Media platforms create effective channels where a developed country such as the United States embraces diversity when media channels air the situations of other human beings living in the world. Social media have provided essential platforms where citizens engage in dialogues to make informed decisions in public policies.

During electioneering periods in the United States, the agenda setting theory becomes of great importance to understand the mechanisms through which information is provided to the public and how it is consumed. Martin and Fortunato (2016) reports, “all democracies share certain important precepts-open debate, with sufferance of unpopular opinions, and decisions taken by honest voting and thereupon accepted”. In this light, mass media has to inform the public of the political issues of the competing parties as well as candidates.

Other than just informing the citizenry about the issues during electioneering periods, media influence the public’s intention to vote, their political participation and gaining political knowledge. Empirical researchers have reported a growing relationship between digital media use and political knowledge and participation in election campaigns. Martin and Fortunato arrived at the conclusion after finding out that, empirical research showing positive effect of digital media use significantly outnumbered course work that produced no or little effect.

The primary role of agenda setting theory is to capture the impact of media decision making process. The Journal of Information Policy explains, “The core concept of agenda-setting research inspired by McCombs and Shaw is the transfer of topic salience from the media agenda to the public agenda”. The authors find similar results to the above examined literature in that amount of media exposure to public influence the salience of the public to a certain political topic. Repeating a media agenda many times when airing news, makes the public recognize the topic as most important, thus allowing it to transfer from media agenda to public agenda.

Media broadcasts have limited time and space which makes topic to compete to become part of the news agenda. In cases when a topic lacks enough public exposure, the public miss the opportunity of recognizing them as items of importance in a public agenda. Reportedly in the Journal of Information Policy, Shaw and Martin, authors who first inspired the theory explains “the press may, unconsciously, provide a limited and rotating set of public issues, around which the political and social system can engage in dialogue”. The variable of story placement determines the salience the public acquires on a given topic.

Caulk’s publication (2016) ‘Trumpism: How agenda setting in the media drove a movement’ explores the role mass media played in campaigning for Trump during the 2016 presidential elections. Caulk’s literature examines major cable networks and their coverage on major themes in Trump’s campaign. The study covered the topics of economic insecurity, terrorism, crime, and immigration. After conducting the empirical research, Caulk finds out how mass media covered the topic to signal Trump as the most important candidate.

Caulk’s literature examines the major issues in the United States across the networks including the CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The set dependent variables included public opinions and attitudes whereas the independent variables included the frames and attributes in media coverage. Caulk conducts the empirical research to examine the effects of coverage towards the behaviors of voters.

Caulk presents results showing how the three major cable news networks in the United States covered Trump’s campaigns. “CNN and Fox News each dedicated more than half of its coverage, 51%, to coverage of the Trump campaign”. (Caulk, 2016, p. 16). The CNN aired Democratic candidates 22% of the time, and 14% for Fox News time. Although MSNBC had most coverage, it covered 45% of Trump’s campaign and 24% of the opposing democrat’s campaigns. The increased coverage of campaigns that Donald Trump ran played an essential role in Trump’s victory in the elections.

Media coverage offers election candidates important channels to send messages to voters. Caulk asserts, “The coverage gave trump the platform to get his message to the people, and the media seemed to be a willing accomplice in his rise” (Caulk 43). The disproportionate coverage during the campaigns triggered media’s function in agenda setting. Even when anchors got an opportunity to air other candidates, they utilized the moments to discuss Trump and his campaign mechanisms.

Through the use of first agenda setting, media platforms managed to inform the public of the importance of Donald Trump in the American society. Ignoring the politics of the Democrats the cable networks signaled the opposing race as unimportant and not worthy for the democratic debate. The networks failed to offer Hilary Clinton and Senator Sanders the same level of salient given to Donald Trump.

From a second-level agenda setting perspective, the media networks displayed how Trump, an established candidate obtained an upper hand in presidential elections in the United States. The news channeled across the CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News brings to light the role of media to show the public how elections in the United States have become a major issue to notice. Through framing, news networks managed to convince the public that Trump had more qualifications to run become the President of the United States.

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