Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Agenda Setting Theory & The Kenyan Media

The Agenda Setting Theory states that media content sets the agenda for public discussion.

The things we see in newspapers, TV and the things we hear on the radio are things that people all over the country are talking about. The Agenda Setting Theory is based on the premise that we are given our “agenda” of daily information for discussion based on what the media wants us to be talking about. Agenda Setting was an early theory given to us by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz. These men believed that the media did not specifically tell us what to think about a particular subject, just which subjects we should be forming an opinion of. This theory is one of deep consequences to many companies that are in the limelight. It can also be very detrimental to politicians and other public figures. Sometimes the media plays a more vital role in society other than just reporting the news. It gives us serious topics that are put under our noses on a daily basis. The information is put there for a reason whether most people are aware of it or not. However, the down side is that the information we are getting is biased and doesn’t allow for us to select what we feel is important.
However with the growth of social media the role of traditional media in setting the agenda is slowly tilting towards new media as more and more people get connected through mobile.

Positive Effects of Agenda Setting Theory
There are many important news items that are reported on a regular basis. These items can be weather, violence, politics and local information. As members of this society, we read these stories and then go about our lives to discuss them with our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Sometimes, we talk about the same story day after day not realizing that the reason it is still a hot topic of conversation is
because it was once again on the front page of the paper. As a society, we need to feel we know what is going on around us. The media gives us information that is going on in our local communities and across the globe. We read these stories to know more about situations concerning our loved ones, the well-being of our freedom and to gather general information. Think about the presidential debate we had yesterday and how the media ‘pushed’ it to us, as they say 40 Million people followed it live! Do you remember the small girl- princess who had cancer and she got interviews on leading media brands? Kenyans for Kenya? Nyeri women and their drunk husbands? The media helps highlight the issues in our society. Ooh before I forget, it is through the media with some help of Muite that we got to know of Dida Abduba and Kenyans liked his authenticity and got to know about his three wives and 11 children!

Negative Effects of Agenda Setting Theory
It seems to be harmless for the media to set the agenda of what is out there for public consumption. However, it depends on how you look at the situation.

The media gives us a great deal of information but sometimes it is just too much.
Politics play too big of a role in what is presented to the public. It seems too often that politicians generally share the background, worldview and financial status as the owners and managers of the dominant media outlets. This has to have a huge impact on what information the public is given. The media moguls tend to give large donations or endorsements to political campaigns and the politicians determine which networks they choose to run political advertisements. It seems to be a combination that has to be detrimental in what we are allowed to see as members of this society.

The other thing is we get to only read, hear or watch what the editors at times feel is okay with them. Locally it’s hard to get something negative in the media from the leading advertisers such as Safaricom because they gag the media. You really can’t publish something not so good for my publicity yet we are spending millions on ads and other PR efforts.
The other thing is the media also chooses to ‘over focus’ on certain issues over others. Currently we are being fed with too much political news and peace campaigns which lead to heightened tensions. It’s more like preaching peace and preparing for war!

The other thing negative thing about agenda setting theory is most Kenyans do not take time to analyze what is in the media and so most will say “If it’s on the Daily Nation or on TV it’s true” thus the gullible public is at times fed on skewed analysis and stories meant to push someone’s agenda or discredit the other one! It’s all about who paid for it! Well, money talks so LISTEN and READ!

The media does set the agenda of what is discussed around the world on a daily basis. The media chooses the stories and the public reviews them on a regular basis. It doesn't seem that many people really are aware that there is someone picking out our information for us, but that is exactly what goes on every single day. There are pros and cons to someone selecting the stories we receive for processing. We do get to have an opinion about the information we receive. We are also allowed to voice that opinion in many different forms, whether it is verbally or written. Freedom of speech has been around for quite some time, but is it really being used or is the media just dominated by the government? Regardless, we are allowed to receive information that is newsworthy and we are allowed to process that without the dominance of our government.

However today with social media increasingly being popular we are getting to know what happens before the story is edited, what is cutting where and when it happens thus this new media too is slowly becoming part of the agenda setting process. The freedom of publishing on social media however raises serious issues as it isn’t controlled to a large extent. We currently have serious issues of hate speech on social media although the term is becoming harder to define as to what is HATE and what ISN’T. There are also issues of FREEDOM ONLINE which too needs legislation to safeguard both the users and the government institutions.

To conclude this I am keenly following how Kenyans use social media during the elections, just in case there will be issues we won’t blame it squarely on the media for being partisan so let us exercise responsible use of social networking platforms as we engage daily & publish those tweets, posts and pin with interest.

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