Agenda Setting in The Mainstream News

Agenda-setting is where the media only ask a limited range of questions about a topic, thus limiting the number of perspectives or angles from which an issue is explored. It is a concept mainly associated with Marxism, and it is one of the main ways in which the media maintain ideological control according to Marxist analysis.

Examples of agenda setting:

Focussing on the violent aspects of a political protest, rather than the arguments behind why the protest is taking place

Charlie Brooker does a great job of analysing how this occurred during the G20 protests in London 2009 – the television crews DID NOT cover the political speeches that took place during the day, they just waited around until some violence did (finally, it was rare!) kick off later in the day, and then it was the violence that became headline news:

Focussing on the ‘drama of the London riots’ and the harms done to victims rather than on the reasons why people took part in the London riots.

I’ll admit, the London Riots were great entertainment, and if that’s all you wanted, the media did a great job of covering the burning and the looting, framing the event in terms of ‘lack of parental responsibility’, ‘moral decline’ and ‘feral youths’

However, the mainstream media didn’t do such a great job of covering the findings of the research which was published months later, which suggested  that the actual reasons the riots took place were, according to the rioters themselves: unfair treatment by the police, unemployment, government policies the shooting of Mark Duggan.

Focussing on why the economy is or isn’t growing, rather than asking whether or not economic growth is a good thing.

There is a daily media-focus on the economy and economic growth: most radio and T.V. news slots have a regular ‘business feature’ and economic growth is always framed as universally good.

However, what is never discussed is the fact that not everyone benefits equally from economic growth – the capitalist class with shares and investments benefit hugely, but the poor benefit almost not at all! America is an excellent example of this – the richest country on earth, but with huge inequalities, you have to ask whether economic growth is actually ‘good’.

The authors of the Spirit Level argue that if we want social progress in Britain  then inequality is now the biggest barrier to improving quality of life for most people, but this is rarely discussed in the media.

Marxists argue that news values and agenda setting work together to reinforce dominant, elite world views of society as normal and natural, and to marginalise alternative perspectives on society which may upset existing power structures.

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