Bernard for them by the writers, editors, and

Bernard Cohen(1963) is generally credited with refining Lipmann’s ideas into the theoryAgenda Setting as he argues that media is, most of the times, successful intelling people what to think about.

He writes:”The press issignificantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion … It may not be successfulmuch of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunninglysuccessful in telling its readers what to think about. And it follows from thisthat the world looks different to different people, depending not only on theirpersonal interests, but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers,editors, and publishers of the papers they read” (p. 13).

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From here, we canargue that the media plays a significant role in deciding for us the prominenceof the issues and dominant events that take place as it can significantly affectthe choices we make in selecting the issues to be read or scrutinized. Reporters,editors, writers, and publishers of the newspapers talk and write about the factsand figures which they think are important, consequently determining the news forall readers which will be most talked about and to which people will respond.Norton Long (1958)wrote: “In a sense, thenewspaper is the prime mover in setting the territorial agenda, it has a greatpart in determining what most people will be talking about, what most people willthink the facts are and what most people will regard as the way problems are tobe dealt with.”  In 1959, Kurt andLang wrote that the mass media force attention to certain issues.

They build uppublic images of political figures.  Theyare constantly presenting objects suggesting what individual in the mass shouldthink about, know about, and have feelings about. The role of the mass media inbuilding the agenda is that the media first highlights some events, activities,groups, personalities, and so forth to make them stand out. Different kinds ofissues require different amount and kinds of coverage to gain attention, whichwill focus the attention of the people to what to think about. Media can play upor down a situation or an event in order to call for attention and focus (priming).While framing is next level of agenda setting where the object and the focus ofattention is framed according to the meanings and frames (implicit and explicit)media attaches to the situation, problem or concern which is now already in thecentre of attention or focus among the public (Lang, 1959). These earlywritings became the basis of the modern-day Agenda Setting Theory, laid outempirically in 1972 by Maxwell E.

McCombs and Donald Shaw in their research, inwhat came to be known as Chapel Hill Study. Their interpretation goes in greatdetail in explaining how agenda setting function is carried out by the media andit is closely related to the political landscape around the world. They arguethat in choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcastersplay an important role in constructing and shaping political reality for readers.By the amount of the information and its position in a news story, readers notonly learn about a given issue, but they also learn how much importance they canand should attach to that issue, hence prioritizing some issues while leavingout other kinds and amounts of information.

Thus, important issues are well determinedby the mass media—that is, the media sets the ‘agenda’ of the campaign (McCombs& Shaw, 1972). In their study, they found out an incredibly strongcorrelation between the issues identified by the public as most important tothe agenda on part of the news media.  Theynamed this ‘transfer of salience’ of issues from the media to the public “theagenda setting influence of mass communication”. This was an intriguing and straightforwardstudy in the history of Agenda Setting Theory, which presented both the strengthsand limitations of agenda setting as a theory of media effects.

McCombs and Shawhad been successful in pointing out the important relationship between mediareports and public issues, but on the negative side, the logic of agenda settingseemed well suited for the news and campaigns, but what about other kinds of contentand other kinds of effects. Their study lacked the question of the actualnature of the relationship between news and its audience. Maybe the public setsthe media’s agenda and then the media reinforce it. The McCombs and Shawanalysis, like most early agenda-setting research, implies a direction ofinfluence from media to audience —that is, it implies causality. But theargument that the media are simply responding to their audiences can be easilymade. Few journalists have not uttered at least once in their careers, “We onlygive the people what they want.” McCombs (1981) himself acknowledged theselimitations.


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