Saturday, September 29, 2007

Media Infighting? Whose Agenda Is it Anyway?

What happens when media itself is in conflict over what to present to the public? In this video MSNBC reporter Mike Brzezinski stands up to her producers and co hosts. Watch on and decide for yourself.

Any thoughts? I myself admire this woman for her tenacity at standing up against the producers of the news program despite the obvious repercussions it may have to her career and reputation to her superiors. While more often than not we think of the media as having its own self-serving capitalist agenda, it is journalists like Mika that give hope to me that someone out there in the media world is truly out there to serve society as a public informant of issues that are relevant and have significant impact to our society today. Seriously, how much does the news of Paris Hilton in jail weigh more than news concerning the United States' plan of action on the war in Iraq? Isn't celebrity news meant to be in celebrity news editions and not as the head story of a morning program?

Again, it may be the media that has the power to dictate what we're going to think about, but in this case the obnoxious male hosts in the show only prove how media can be very shallow sometimes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is media control really such a bad thing?

Based on how we've been discussing the Agenda Setting Theory so far, both in Ms. Borsoto's class (*waves* hi ma'am! :D) and in this blog, it seems as though we're portraying the basic assertion of the theory as... a bad thing. I mean, all we ever talk about the theory is the control it has on the public, or how the people in media power have all the benefits, etc. But here's the thing. I've thought about it long and hard, and I've come to the conclusion that perhaps... media control is not a bad thing. We've become so used to criticizing theories (especially in class) that sometimes, we fail to see their actual usefulness, and how applying them to real life may not be as bad as we think it is.

What I've come to realize is that the Agenda Setting Theory's basic assertion, which is, to quote Diane's first post, to establish "the salient issues that society deems important," is not a bad thing in itself. If we take it out of the context of questioning who is in power and who sets the agendas for the public, the theory's assertion is actually a good thing. The way a person or an institution actually does something to determine what is supposed to be important for the public is in fact a necessity in any society. Think about it. What if no one sets an agenda? What if there's no agenda for the public at all? Chaos would ensue. Or at the very least, people would be entirely indifferent (and ignorant) of whatever is happening in their society. Shaw et al said, "...the mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about." It's a scary, intimidating statement in the sense that media has this much control over our lives with the way the theory implies that media even controls our minds. But again, think about it. without media, we won't have anything to think about. And that, I believe, is a much scarier thought.

In short, I think that the Agenda Setting Theory's basic assertion is a good thing in the sense that it actually guides the society. Again, let's take this out of the context of power and control. News is a perfect example of why setting an agenda is a good thing. It makes the people aware of what is happening in society, provides them guidelines of what to do about their society's current problems, motivates them to do something about these problems, and sometimes even provides the people a way to make these solutions happen. Setting an agenda is next to common sense. It would be ridiculous to call for and set up a meeting with other people, say in an org, without even planning what agendas should the meeting go over or be about. The entire meeting would be useless, and nothing would get done. It's the same with the audience of mass media. How would the people function in a society if they don't have agendas for that society in the first place?

With so many things happening in one place all at the same time, if you don't set an agenda, if you don't work out what you should focus on, how will you make sense of these events? It's like turning on the the TV and seeing a hundred different channels being broadcasted on screen all at once. As much as you want to watch all these channels, you know it's impossible because you won't understand a thing anyway. It's the same with society. As much as people want to be aware of everything that's happening around them, it's impossible to take all of these in at the same time. Information overload will happen. This is where news - one of society's main sources of "agenda-setters" - steps in. It sifts through and sorts out these multitude of events and topics and picks those which it thinks society should focus on. And logically, it seems better for society to be able to understand certain relevant topics - few may they be - than for them not to understand anything at all.

The entire criticism and elaboration on the Agenda Setting Theory, therefore, should focus not on media as an "agenda-setter," but should focus more on media's responsibility as an "agenda-setter." Media is a good thing. A society can never function well without it -- it's like taking away a person's eyes and ears and mouth. What should be taken into consideration now is how media can be a society's eyes, ears and mouth in a way that is effective, moral, and just.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Because Media Knows Best.

"The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about."
Bernard C. Cohen, 1963

“Parents may not be successful much of the time in telling their children what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling them what to think about… like not getting pregnant, getting a stable job, the perils of smoking and alcoholism, and more.”

Diana Galindez, 2007

Think of this: the idea of going to school did not really occur to you until your parents told you that YOU HAD TO. School, as they told you, was a place where you would meet other children and learn about the things that you need to know. Early on in childhood, parents establish the necessity of education. We wonder, why is it such a big deal? Certainly, civilizations thrived in the primitive era even without formal education. In the olden times, people did not need teachers to show them how things were done. They had to learn, invent, and do things on their own.

However, the turn of the 19th century sparked a universal paranoia that instigated a boom in the education industry. Why did parents suddenly begin to nurse the fear of having illiterate children? Why did schools tailor their teaching strategies to appease the demands of parents? Furthermore, in the light of the agenda setting theory, how has the media shaped parental attitudes and values?

Majority of the studies conducted to gauge media effects have largely focused on children, overlooking both its direct and indirect influence on parents and their child-rearing techniques. In the past few decades, there has been an implosion of information and advice about parenting in the mass media. Books, magazines and shows have been created, as well as sites in the internet. Unfortunately, research has been insufficient in terms of looking into the quality and quantity of these messages, their implications, and the potential of transforming the media as effective agents for promoting better parenting.

Media shapes both child and parent. Parent brings the child to an encounter with the media and vice versa. In doing so, stereotypes are created to easily depict the ideal parenting virtues that will mold the perfect child. This is made evident by the establishment of parenting as a crucial issue in various forms of media. According to the symposium on media and parenting at Harvard University,

“Printed parenting materials have proliferated dramatically in the past two to four decades--books, magazines, newsletters, regional parenting papers, pamphlets, and parenting articles in newspapers. Over 1500 parenting books are estimated to be in print today, representing about 20% of the "psychology" market. Similarly, over 200 magazines are estimated to be devoted to aspects of parenting and family life, not including women's magazines and other more general titles that include significant parenting material. Controlled-circulation, regional parenting papers, typically distributed free to consumers, are now available in almost every major city, and controlled-circulation "baby" magazines, also free to consumers, reach almost every new parent. Child and family beat reporters have become quite common at major daily newspapers, and "child-related" stories are a regular feature of the news landscape. In short, almost every parent, regardless of socioeconomic status, is exposed to printed information about parenting, most repeatedly.”

As a result, every parent, regardless of socio-economic status, is exposed to information on parenting regularly. Subsequently, electronic media such as television, radio and the internet has made room for family-oriented ventures, with parents as their target audiences. With this, the level of interest bolsters the demand for information from the media. Studies further suggest that the mass media is “commonly used as sources of parenting information, sometimes as extensively as, or more extensively than, interpersonal sources such as family, clergy, or counselors.” In addition, the presence of professional and academic opinion, as backed-up by years of research and experience, has provided the media with a great deal of influence on parents' views towards raising their children. The question now is, does the media contribute effectively? or is it just another classic game of quantity winning over quality?

The problem with media-cultured parenting is that it breeds on profit. The competition among companies through media networks has led to the segmentation of sources on parenting information. There may be a lot, but they are certainly strewn in various forms of media. There is a distinct paradox in this situation: in its effort to make information accessible, the media has extended its reach. Yet, the immense assortment of sources makes it inaccessible because parents do not know which one is the most reliable. In short, they are denied access to factual information.

In relation, the competition among constituents of the media has made information confusing and conflicting. Almost all endorsements are backed up by professionals and trusted personalities. All of them are claiming that they know what’s best. In doing so, the media creates trends in parenting. The information that it disseminates is largely affected by the values that it wants to inculcate. For example, the 1960’s valued authoritarian parenting, while the 1980’s promoted permissive parenting. At the turn of the new millennium, the media started to advocate a democratic approach to parenting. Though these shifts are brought about by socioeconomic and political forces, we cannot discount the role of both policy and corporate agenda in shaping these views.

Subsequently, trends lead to stereotypes. Regarded as the most powerful influence of the media in parental values, these stereotypes have enabled parents to define what is ideal and vis-à-vis. Here are a few prevalent parenting ideologies that are used here in the Philippines and around the world, as well as the propaganda behind them.

1. The world is a scary place and it’s going to come and get you!

Fueled by the people’s inclination towards crime stories, news organizations have depicted the world as a scary place, giving parents enough reason to keep their kids at home.

Products sold: security devices, self-defense lessons and weapons.

2. The Gifted Child

As mentioned earlier, education is a necessity. However, it does not stop there. You have to be immensely intelligent to get ahead in life. The media has always portrayed intellectuals as successful in both family and career, hence, parents immediately assume that this is the case in real life.

Products sold: PROMIL! educational plans, and “mushrooming” of educational institutions

3. The Perfect Family

Mom and Dad have nice children. They go to work and school respectively. They get into trouble once in while, but at the end of every troublesome situation, they will all have their happy ending. Mom and dad are rational and diplomatic; while the kids are obedient and smart.

This is how the media shapes the family—though quite unrealistic, parents are highly motivated to strive for perfect family relationships. Furthermore, recent studies claim that parents have accustomed themselves to patterning their conduct on the behavior of characters in family-oriented shows.


1. Hersey, Paul and Kenneth H. Blanchard. The Family Game. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1978.

2.Redl, Ritz and David Wineman. Controls From Within. Illinois: Free Press Corporation, 1960.

3.Grolnick, Wendy S. The Psychology of Parental Control. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Media - Helping You Understand

Alright, this time we're going to look at the average media consumer. The average media consumer rarely has first hand news of the events that occur in society. The average media consumer usually gets his/her own information from media entities through news programs, newspapers, the radio etc. Now, consider removing the media entirely and leaving behind the average media consumer which we will now dub as your average reasonable person. Let's assume for the moment that this person has first hand access to these events, can literally be there and know every single event happening. To be quite honest, I wouldn't expect that person to understand what the hell was going on in each and every situation that he/she monitors unless that person happened to be personally knowledgeable about the context of the situation.

The Agenda Setting comes from the premise taken by Walter Lippman who talks about how the public perceives events through "pictures in their heads" which he calls a pseudoenvironment. He states this because the real world, in all its complexity, subtlety, hugeness, and variety is too much for a person to process information individually and convert into any useful form. In effect, the media finds a market by providing a broken down, simpler, and more manageable idea of current events so we may find how they apply into our lives.

Take for example the video below about the Daily Show with John Stuart, a satirical show, takes on the issue of an Intellectual Property Rights lawsuit involving Viacom and YouTube.

Here you find the topic of IPR much more simplified (and at the same time satirized) by the show and it enables the general public to have an understanding of the parties concerned in the issue. While the media is not always the best source of information out there, we cannot deny its usefulness to us all. The important thing is, we should always learn to be critical of the media that we consume and not become blind followers or simply take information at face value.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Power Relations - Who's In Control?

The media has always been a force to be reckoned with. It can influence almost every aspect of your life. From the way you choose your groceries, to the manner in which you pick who to vote in the next elections, media has in one way or another guided/influenced your decision. Such is the amount of power that media has over society today that it's not surprising that professionals who make out a living out of it go toe to toe with the other powers that be in society. Which powers are these? From political/religious leaders, to corporate leaders and business moguls, the media has in one way or another had a relationship with each and everyone of these. In this blog entry, I'll be detailing the types of power relations between the media and other sources of power in society.

According to the Agenda Setting Theory of Media, there are four different types of power relations that the media and other factions are involved in. Take note that these relationships are not stagnant and it is not uncommon for circumstances to change the balance of power in any given time.

First Type of Power Relations
High-Power Source and High-Power Media

In this relationship, the media and "insert entity here" have a symbiotic relationship that, in effect, exert a huge amount of influence over the opinion of the general public. What do we mean by this? Here you have the media and the faction concerned either seeing eye to eye with one another, or evenly clashing on a specific issue. In the case of the politics, when a certain political candidate is favored by a media entity, more often than not you will find the media backing up the views of the politician as well as featuring him prominently in their programs. On the other hand, in the event that the media and the faction concerned directly clash on a view and both of them have a considerable amount of influence over the public (i.e. a popular figure versus an equally prominent media entity) there is sure to be a clash of ideals and a struggle between the both of them.

An example of this relationship would be found in the video below.

While it is not implicit here, you have a member of the Royal Family actively suppressing the media from speaking or commenting about the scandal involving himself. While we don't know whether this is true or not, we see the media retaliating in equal force through the tabloids and here in John Stuart's show.

Second Type of Power Relations
High-Power Source and Low-Power Media

Now in this situation, the media is at the disadvantage and has a reduced amount of influence over society. The high-power source in this context will most likely co-opt the media structure to forward his/her own ends. In the Philippines this is quite common for corporate moguls who happen to own their own publications alongside their other commercial ventures. In the event that any of their assets are embroiled in a scandal (tax evasion, violation of environmental regulations, neglect of media/social ethics) they make it a point to order their publications to tread lightly on the subject and do some damage mitigation or abandon the topic altogether to avoid further damage. (Let's not name names for the time being) Another example would also be of media being used by dictatorial governments for propaganda or heavy censorship. The press would literally have no freedom unless the content is approved by government censors. This technique was employed by Marcos during his dictatorship, where there was little or no press freedom, and he might have learned it from the Japanese who occupied the country years before him. Both Marcos and the Japanese utilized the media to spread their ideals and dictates to the Filipino people, and for a time this was all the people had to rely on for information.

Third Type of Power Relations
Low-Power Source and High-Power Media

Here, the media has sole responsibility over their own agenda. The low-power source has little or no ability to respond to the media due to lack of public support and influence. Examples of this would be the minority groups in the Philippines ranging from homosexuals, to communist rebels and Muslim extremists. The government and other powers in society usually leave the media to their own when it comes to dealing with these marginalized groups because of the little effect reporting on the matter will have on themselves. Even the media wouldn't care much about what these groups' agendas are and would only cover them when in times of conflict or controversy.

Fourth Type of Power Relations
Low-Power Source and Low-Power Media

This situation rarely happens, but it is most commonly seen in times of conflict or disaster. The media or public leaders do not have much in the way of control in what the public agenda would be in times of natural disasters such as typhoons or landslides, or times of war and conflict such as the September 11 attacks. Here the events themselves establish what the public is to think/talk about for days to come. Below is a video of the CNN coverage of September 11, 2001. The event was solely responsible for the shock and fear experienced by people around the globe.

Well, there you have it the four types of power relations outlined in the Agenda Setting theory. More on how this affects you and me in the next posts.

The Four Fiercest Fights.

On the lighter side: Ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a head honcho?


The Agenda- Setters of the Philippines.

Bets anyone?

Fight # 1: The Television Tycoons

Gabby Lopez, ABS CBN 2

One family. One station. One Kris Aquino to beat them all.


Felipe Gozon, GMA 7

Hindi namin kayo tatantanan!

Fight # 2: The Publishing Honchos

Emilio Yap, Manila Bulletin

Ako publisher, Ako editor.


Sandy Prieto, PDI

Balanced News, fearless views...
and endless libel suits.

and another contender...

Liza Gokongwei-Cheng, Summit Media

Magazines? I heart them ALL.

Fight # 3: The Mall Moguls

Henry Sy, SM Supermalls

We got it all for you!
We got ALL MALLS too!


Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Robinsons' Malls

Well, at least my malls are named after ME.

Fight # 4: The University Presidents

Bro. Armin Luistro, DLSU

The future begins by teaching our students how to spell.


Fr. Ben Nebres, AdMU

We are men for others: we have lives beyond basketball.

Disclaimer: these statements were made by the author for laughter's sake only. They were not, in any way, said by the authorities in the pictures.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Agenda Setting Theory for DUMMIES.

Hooray for the FIRST POST!

This is Agenda-Setting 101 for the caveman and/ or non communication major. Future posts will be on its applications in various contexts, so I thought it would be best if I give a background on the theory that we will be discussing as the days pass by. It would then be easier, for you, dear bloghopper, to understand the stuff that we will be blogging about. It may not make sense to you now, but as the blog entries pour in, we're pretty sure that you will soon understand not only what the agenda-setting function is, but also why we think you should know about it.

Basic Assertion

The media establishes the salient issues that society deems important. Society’s discourse and interaction is shaped by media influence, where premeditated values are unobtrusively acculturated in the majority’s lifestyle.



The agenda setting function of the media was initially based on the tenets of journalism. In the 1920’s, American journalist Walter Lippman criticized the inclination of journalists to generalize reality by patterning it on fixed, stereotyped concepts. In doing so, the public started to conceive truth not from what they saw, but from what journalism fed them. Lippman argued that though journalists were efficiently disseminating information, the issues that they featured failed to give a comprehensive view on the real state of society. Hence, society’s feedback is invalidated because it is not appropriately directed to the issues that need attention.

In 1970’s, Donald Shaw and Maxwell Mc Combs concretized the assumptions of Lippman through their groundbreaking “Chapel Hill” study. During the 1968, 1972, and 1976 presidential elections in the United States, Shaw and Mc Combs studied the media’s influence in determining the political issues that the community considered to be newsworthy. Through a series of carefully conducted experiments, they were able to deduce that there is a correlation between the rate that the media covers a story and the extent to how people respond to a particular issue. It further implies that the amount of time that news organizations allot for an issue is directly proportional to the level of involvement that the audience will have towards the issue being featured.

Dissatisfied by the propositions of the early theories in the effects tradition (e.g. hypodermic needle theory, limited effects theory), more and more researchers have gone beyond the effects of the media and now investigate on how the media shapes the issues that have predetermined effects on their audiences.

Kinds of Agenda:

A. Media Agenda

These are the issues discussed in popular forms of mass media like newspapers, television, the radio and the internet.

B. Public Agenda

These are the basic issues considered to be relevant by the public like issues of state, popular culture and religion.

C. Policy Agenda

These are issues that policy makers consider important. Policy makers may refer to law-governing officials like legislators (for the government) and legal counsels (for private companies).

D. Corporate Agenda

These are the issues that businesses and corporations consider important, as they are primarily profit-oriented.

Levels of Agenda-Setting

1. Establishment of Issue

Initially, the media establishes the general issue that should incite public interest. It does so by using objects or issues that are relevant to the majority in order to suggest matters that they should think about. The media starts to filter content by simultaneously using multiple media networks (television, newspapers, radio and internet) to zero in on an issue. This control over the selection of content discussed in the media is known as gatekeeping.

2. Issue Elaboration

After inducing the public on what to talk about, mass media delves even further by suggesting how they should think about it. Similar to the elaboration likelihood model, the public may be encouraged to think cognitively (central route) or affectively (peripheral route). The cognitive approach is usually used in grave matters that require elaboration such as issues about state, religion and societal attributes. On the contrary, product-centered campaigns use the affective approach because the audience must think only in terms of acceptance or rejection. Since the goal is to “set” the choice that they want the public to make, it is imperative that these choices are laid out attractively. For instance, the mass media constantly makes use of techniques such as priming and framing to boost product popularity and consumer interest. Priming occurs when the medium provides more time for a particular issue, making it more accessible and evident to the public. Meanwhile, the medium executes framing when it defines how an issue will be packaged to produce particular predetermined interpretations.

3. Intermedia Agenda Setting

In the final phase of agenda setting, salience transfer is coursed through different media channels or networks of a business conglomerate. Sister companies of a corporation will team up to effectively set the agenda and create what Lippman calls a pseudo-environment. This shall give the impression that the series of prefabricated circumstances is part of reality.


  • It gives an explanation on how and why there is a collective similarity among the issues or values prioritized or discussed frequently by a certain group.
  • It assumes that as long as the majority is exposed to the same sources of information or influence, they will uphold similar values.
  • The theory can be applied extensively, beyond the tenets of the mass media.
  • It allows researchers to identify and “compartmentalize” the effects of the media.
  • The theory allows further research.
  • It transcends mass media culture throughout different generations.


  • It has a tendency to be overrated. Issue awareness per se, cannot create, nor solve problems all the time. People will pay attention, but will they do something about it?
  • For people who have very strong positions on a given issue, agenda-setting may only backfire and create a boomerang effect.
  • People have divided attention towards the many issues that the media feeds them. The media does not set just one agenda. It certainly sets a lot. Hence, the predicted effects of the theory are diminished.


1. Infante, Dominic A. et al. Building Communication Theory. Illinois: Waveland Press, 1990.

2. Severin, Werner J. and James W. Tankard, Jr. Communication Theories: Origins, Methods and Uses in the Mass Media. Austin: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001.