Agenda Setting Theory in Communication (Agenda Setting Theory)

In everyday life, we are surrounded by various media which convey various information and news which then enter our minds. Whether we realize it or not, the media, especially the mass media, influence our mindset and perception in seeing an event or issue in society.

There are several media theories which state that mass media have the power to influence  audiences,  and one of them is the agenda setting  theory  which will be discussed in more depth here. (Also read:  Uses and Gratification Theory )

Also read:

  • Political Communication
  • language as a means of communication
  • organizational communication

Understanding Agenda Setting

According to McCombs & Shaw, the agenda setting is ” mass media have the ability to transfer the salience of items on their news agenda to the public agenda” ( Griffin , 2010). This understanding explains that the mass media does have the power to influence and even shape the mindset of the  audience  exposed to the information exposure. (Also read:   Branch of Communication Sciences )

McCombs and Shaw further explained that mass media has the ability to make people judge something important based on what the media convey, in other words  we judge as important what the media judge as important.

The two scientists also emphasized that this does not mean that they are accusing. That the media always deliberately influences the  audience  with information and news conveyed through the media and has a specific purpose. (Also read: Business Communication )

What is conveyed by the mass media is of course guided by applicable journalistic principles, moreover the media have journalists who cover and report information in accordance with the principles of their journalism. However, in this case, McCombs and Shaw explained that what is conveyed by the media is considered something important and should be considered by the wider community. (Also read:  Political Communication Theory )

The media does not influence people’s minds by telling them what they think and what ideas or values ​​they have, but telling them what issues and issues to think about. The general public tends to judge that what is conveyed through the mass media is something that deserves to be a common issue and become the scope of the public domain. (read: communication psychology )

That way, the public also assesses that what is considered important by the media is also important and indeed must be considered or at least influence their perception of it. (Also read:  Sociology of Communication )

Even so, McCombs and Shaw do not close the view that respects and believes that the  audience  also has its own strengths, namely the selective exposure hypothesis  This hypothesis explains that humans tend to only see and read information and news that are in line and do not threaten or contradict the beliefs that they have and have built. This shows the strength and freedom of humans in choosing, sorting, and receiving messages conveyed by the mass media. (Also read:  Organizational Communication Theory )

Thus, it can be seen that agenda setting  theory is  unique in that it supports two interesting basic assumptions. First, this theory states clearly that the mass media has the power to influence and shape people’s perceptions. On the other hand, this theory also supports the hypothesis that however everything returns to the individual, where they have the freedom to choose what they want to receive. (Also read:  Organizational Communication Patterns )

Example Case Setting Agenda

The most obvious example is news broadcast on television. When cases of sexual violence against children are rampant, the community accepts this information as a picture of the real reality, even though they don’t actually experience it firsthand. (Read:  Government Communications )

This information made the public aware of the urgency of the case and more sensitive to the indications leading to the case. Not infrequently, after a case of child sexual violence emerged from one area, a similar case was exposed from another area. (Also read:  Communication Context )

This shows that the media influence the human mindset, including what is considered important and what is not. The information raised in the media makes people think that it is important and worthy of attention. The media can make what was not previously visible into the public eye, whether or not it really matters. (read also: communication philosophy )

Another example is the telolet phenomenon which was quite busy a few months ago. Unlike the previous example, this phenomenon occurs through fairly new media, namely social media. Telolet is actually just a distinctive and loud intercity bus horn, but it has skyrocketed because it goes viral on social media. Because of its virality , people from abroad have also shown their interest in this telolet phenomenon. (Also read:  The Role of Political Communication Media )

The telolet phenomenon is a simple joy and pleasure that was previously neglected to become something big and seemingly important. Before this phenomenon took off, maybe we didn’t even care about the sound of a bus horn that sounded loudly. Social media makes us think that it is a “wow” and unusual phenomenon. (Also read:  Social Communication )

The influence of this media exposure has resulted in the emergence of opinions circulating in society and forming public opinion. Referring to the previous example, namely the news of child sexual violence which then creates an opinion that child sexual violence is a serious crime case. Also telolet is shaping public opinion as a major phenomenon. (Also read:  Public Relations Management )

Also read:

  • Public Relations Theory
  • Mass Communication Theory
  • Da’wah Communication
  • intercultural communication

Theoretical framework

The following is an explanation of the framework in agenda setting theory.

Media Agenda & Public Agenda

McCombs & Shaw’s first task is to measure the media agenda , which measures criteria based on the position and length of the story  or information conveyed. The more prominent the position of delivery and the length of duration of the information conveyed, the more important the position of the information is. Information that the media deems important will be conveyed continuously, for example you can find this information in every  television news headline  , print media, or electronic media.

Meanwhile, the public agenda is the most important public issue whose measurement is based on public opinion surveys. The public agenda focuses on what everyone thinks about the key issue of a thing or issue, what people think about a particular issue.

Also read:

  • process of social interaction
  • organizational communication patterns

Simply put, the  public agenda  is an opinion or public opinion that includes the wider community on an issue that may be considered important or not at all important. (Also read:  Modern Communication Media )

Who Influences Who

After understanding the  media agenda  and  public agenda,  then we will discuss the relationship between the two things, which include:

  • Who influences whom?
  • Is it the media agenda that influences and shapes the public agenda, or is it the public agenda that affects the media agenda?

McCombs and Shaw as agenda setting  theory advocates  state that it is the media agenda that influences the formation of the public agenda, and this is evidenced by a strong correlation between what the media convey and its influence on public views. (Also read:  Persuasive Communication )

Meanwhile, other scientists criticize the theory and state that the media only convey and represent what is in society. In other words, the media agenda is a public agenda that is conveyed so that it is more widely known by the wider community. (Also read:  The Influence of Social Media )

But of course, the role of the media in shaping and influencing the mindset of the  audience is  still felt strong. People who are vulnerable to being exposed to media agendas are those who have a high need for orientation and a sense of curiosity about what happens in society. ( Also read:  Assertive Communication )

The level of need for orientation and curiosity is formed from the high level of individual relationships and uncertainty regarding related issues. For example, as a person who likes  fashion, that  person will be more easily influenced by media information about fashion  figures  or the latest fashion  trends  . (Also read:  Mass Communication )

Agenda Setter

Next, we will discuss about the  agenda setter  or who makes and shapes the  agenda setting; in other words who determines the media agenda and delivers information based on that agenda. There are several opinions regarding who is in charge and has the power to be this  agenda setter  . (Also read:  Non Verbal Communication )

Some experts argue that it is the news editor or gatekeeper that determines the agenda for the setters . Gatekeepers have a great opportunity to set the agenda because the news that will be conveyed by the public must go through them first and be filtered. They can shape and determine what news is conveyed to the public and what is not, so that it becomes an agenda setting practice .

Other experts argue that politicians have a role as agenda setters for the agenda setters . Politicians have interests that are related to image and society so that it is possible to form an agenda setting . In addition, PR or professional public relations is also considered to have a role in shaping the agenda setting . The PR task, which is to form and maintain an image, is also very possible to determine the agenda setting . (Also read:  Social Interaction Process )

That is the discussion on agenda setting  theory  researched by McCombs and Shaw. Hopefully this article can be useful for those of you who are looking for information about the agenda setting  theory  and its explanation, an explanation of the  media agenda  and  public agenda,  and who can be the  agenda setter.


by Abdullah Sam
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