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Framing and Agenda Setting Bias in News Media Essay

The Hutchinson Commission on freedom of the press best defined news in 1947 as a “truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning.”Journalism in today’s news is not the same as it was over half a century ago. The Fairness Doctrine, which was eliminated in 1987, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Federal Communications Commission’s view, honest, equitable and balanced. The Doctrine obligated broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public policy and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Why are channels that are so obviously biased, such as Fox News and MSNBC, considered the best mainstream sources for news? What methods are used by news media to influence the public on what to think about and how to think about it? There is no denying that life is much more convenient with the existence of news media. News media takes the responsibility of being the bond between individuals and the rest of the world. It is an essential force that helps the world develop as humans become more educated and curious about what goes on.

The news can certainly broaden our horizons; by knowing the events happening around the world and acquiring that awareness, people are more equipped with knowledge to understand different subjects and to establish their own angles of treating an issue. Worldwide communication is improved through news media broadcast and as Cleveland State University Profesor Anup Kumar said, “communication is at the heart of what makes society.” Admittedly, news media has its flaws. In the “Orwell Roll in His Grave” documentary, Mark Crispin Miller states “There are stories of tremendous public moment that are not covered while trivial stories that don’t have any resonance at all are over focused”. People are losing interest about real issues and useless entertainment stories are becoming more prominent than hard news about what is happening in society. Media coverage reflects the media’s agenda. The agenda setting theory predicts that people will place importance on issues to which they are exposed. Agenda setting by the media tells us what to think about – public opinion about what should be on the public agenda is heavily influenced by the topics and issues that appear in the news (Glenn G. Sparks , 2012). The type of news people select often takes the form of opinionated entertainment rather than politically oriented information because some of this information is simply not presented. “All the reporters in the world working all the hours of the day could not witness all the happenings in the world” (Lippmann, 1922, p. 183). Limitations such as distance, time constraints, and subjectivity challenge the media. Controversy surrounding Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy and the Paula Deen Scandal are both excellent examples of agenda-setting in action. The media is ever-present for these stories as if they are significant events. The placement of full page, color articles and top stories on news programming makes it clear that Americans should place these events as important issues. There are numerous articles and reports about Kardashian naming her child North West.

There are news channels that portray that Deen just made a mistake and is genuinely sorry for her choice of words while some channels try to reveal that she really is racist and she only apologized for the sake of her career. Therefore most Americans do believe that these are both very important issues of the time. There are thousands of television channels, radio stations, newspapers and magazines, not to mention the thousands of internet news sources available. We have more instant access to information as consumers and citizens yet that doesn’t mean we’re better informed. Many will agree that the function of the news is to educate and reveal the truth about current events. However, the truth is complicated. News may only help people to see the world in a certain perspective because messages are selected and edited or, in the other word, framed. Framing is an alternative way of presenting events and issues, a process of highlighting certain aspects of an issue and neglecting others. This emphasizing/de-emphasizing method inevitably entails inherent bias. Joan Didion notes that news is no longer just reported, but managed in a way that sets its terms, dictates its pace, allocates time and space, and shapes its overall content” (Danny Schechter, 1997) The framing process starts with a someone finding out about an event or some information and then interpreting it. They then gather information by searching for data and interviewing relevant people. They select ‘important’ information, omit ‘less-important’ data, emphasize particular aspects of the issue and elaborate on that. The public receive the framed news through the media. As stated by Reuven Frank in 1998, “news is something people don’t know if they are interested in until they hear about it. The job of a journalist is to take what’s important and make it interesting.” In his interview for the “Orwell Rolls in His Grave” documentary Senator Bernie Sanders passionately explained that media trivializes, sensationalizes, and makes news entertaining for the sake of ratings and profit. Public information is turned bias by news corporations to create profit. Story selection is the biggest factor. The pattern of highlighting news stories that coincide with the agenda of either the Left or the Right, while ignoring stories that coincide with the opposing view is something prominent is news media. The range of inquiry by journalists and legitimacy is always in question. The best example of this is FOX News and MSNBC. The most powerful special interest in Washington today is the media. They not only give money and lobby for politicians, but they have the power and medium to control perceptions (Charles Lewis, Orwell Rolls in His Grave).

Framing in particular is crucial in influencing public opinion and political communication. Both these stations only present data and information that boosts their own political agenda. They cite studies released by a certain party but ignore studies on the same or similar topics released by the opposing group. There is always bias in each report, and that’s why people should watch these with a certain level of skepticism. There are several ways for journalists to frame news. Framing usually occurs in language implication, interviewee’s identities and quotes, tone of the presentation and headline implication. “Journalists may follow the rules for objective reporting and yet convey a dominant framing of the news text that prevents most audience members from making a balanced assessment of the situation.” (Robert M. Entman, 1993). One example of the fallacies in today’s news is the lack of background information given on the subject. Very little background information is recorded, which in turn does not inform the reader enough to make an educated opinion. With agenda setting and news framing, there is no accuracy and fairness in many news sources. There’s always the tendency to try and persuade the reader’s reaction or opinion. Jim Squires stated “even at its worst and most unfair … journalism once had as its goal a quest for accuracy and perspective that would eventually provide truth.” There should be certain standards of journalism in news today; the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstituted. Without both sides presented, the report lacks the background information needed to better educate the reader to make their own opinion. The need for cognition variable explains that people who distrust the news don’t consume as much of it, unless they have a high need for cognition (Glenn G. Sparks , 2012). The limitations of this lie with the education of individuals and their willingness to learn. While agenda setting and framing is present in the news media, increased literacy, a plethora of media choices and the “publish-it-yourself” prospect of the Internet makes it harder for the media to influence people. People influenced by news media biased are more likely less educated, so they tend to believe what they hear. People with less need for cognition are apt to absorb information, rather than find out the truth, leading to an imbalanced assessment of the issue. A high level of cognition is necessary for someone to actually research more about an issue and to determine what is true. That person can then be able to make a fair judgment on that subject. As people become more educated, they are less likely to be influenced by the media.

Sparks, Glenn Grayson. “The Effects of News and Political Content.” Media Effects Research: A Basic Overview. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013. 209-15. Print. Lippmann, Walter. “The Nature of News.” Public Opinion,. New York: Harcourt, Brace and, 1922. 183. Print. Schechter, Danny. The More You Watch, the Less You Know: News Wars/(sub)merged Hopes/media Adventures. New York: Seven Stories, 1997. Print. Entman, Robert M. Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm Journal of Communication Vol. 43 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1993. Jour. Pappas, Robert K. (Director). (2004). Orwell Rolls in His Grave. United States: Sag Harbor-Basement Pictures.

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