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Agenda setting theory (Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw)

The influence of media affects the presentation of the reports and issues made in the news that affects the public mind. The news reports make it in a way that when a particular news report is given importance and attention than other news the audience will automatically perceive it as the most important news and information are given to them. The priorities of which news comes first and then the next are set by the media according to how people think and how much influence will it have among the audience.

Agenda setting occurs through a cognitive process known as “accessibility”. Media provides information which is the most relevant food for thought, portraits the major issues of the society and reflects people minds.

These are the levels of agenda setting theory:

First Level:

The first level is usually used by the researchers to study media uses and its objectives or the influences that media creates on people and the most proximal thought that people will have on the exposure to the information given by media house.

Second level:

At the second level, the media focuses on how people should think about the nature of the issues. Thus, sensationalization of news reports may happen to bring in the interest of the audience. In fact, media wants to grab attention and implant thoughts in people minds about some serious issues. That’s why media turn certain issues viral.

Agenda setting theory is used in a political ad, campaigns, business news, PR (public relation) etc. The main concept associated with the theory is gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is in charge of and has control of the selection of content discussed in the media. It is assumed that the public cares mostly about the product of a media gatekeeping. Editors are the main gatekeepers of media itself. The news media decides ‘what’ events to broadcast and show through the media ‘gates’ on the basis of ‘newsworthiness’.

For e.g.: News Comes from various sources, editors choose what should appear and what should not that’s why they are called as gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers are the powerful authority who ensure the right material is disseminated to mass. Because some issues are important to media but not to masses. Also they are much concern on not to distort peace and public stability.


The responsibility of the media in proposing the values and standards through which the objects gain a certain amount of attention can be judged. The media’s content will provide a sufficient amount of time and space to certain issues, making it more vivid.

In simple words, the media gives the utmost importance to a certain event such that it gives people the impression that that particular news is the most important one. This is done on a daily basis. The selected news report is carried on as a heading or covered regularly for months. For example, terms such as headlines, special news features, discussions, expert opinions are used. Media primes news by repeating the news and giving it more importance like, for example, Nuclear Deal.


Framing is a process of selective control. It has two meanings.

  1. The way in which news content is typically shaped and contextualized within the same frame of reference.
  2. Audience adopts the frames of reference and to see the world in a similar way. This is how people attach importance to a piece of news and perceive its context within which an issue is viewed.

Framing deals with how people attach importance to certain news. For example, in the case of an attack, defeat, win and loss, the media frames the news in such a way that people perceive from a different angle.

We can take the Kargil War between India and Pakistan as an example. In both the countries, the news reports were framed in such a way they show their own country in a positive light and the other in the negative. So depending on which media people have access to, their perception will differ.

Factors affecting Agenda setting

Gatekeepers, editors and managers and other external influences.

Non-media sources like government officials and influential personnel.

For example “if the media has close relationship with the elite society, that class will probably affect the media agenda and the public agenda in turn”.

Criticisms of Agenda setting theory is

  • Media users are not ideal. The people may not pay attention to details.
  • The effect is weakened for people who have made up their mind.
  • Media cannot create problems. They can only alter the level of awareness, priorities, importance, etc.
{ 46 comments… add one }
  • nalwoga sharon September 23, 2011, 8:06 pm

    Am requesting for the criticisms of the agenda setting theory as compared in communication theory.

  • nalwoga sharon September 23, 2011, 8:10 pm

    The criticisms of the agenda setting theory as compared to Maxwell Mccombs.

  • DONALD March 29, 2012, 8:30 pm

    the importance of agenda setting i full

  • DONALD March 29, 2012, 8:31 pm

    agenda settings in full

  • marriam saeed May 19, 2012, 7:08 pm

    short criticisum

  • laffor peter May 25, 2012, 6:55 pm

    this theory is explained very well

  • Brown Dauglas November 27, 2012, 11:29 am

    Well explained,but some areas like priming&framing are not clearly exhausted.

  • Justine July 30, 2013, 11:55 pm

    This has been really helpful in my studying for my final exams this semester!

  • immaculate December 16, 2013, 11:00 pm

    the relevance of the Agenda Setiing theory to my country Uganda

  • mahado December 30, 2013, 8:34 am

    thanks a lot this helped me a lot

  • grandmother May 28, 2014, 7:43 am

    I am sure this piece of writing has touched all the internet viewers, its really really pleasant paragraph on building up new blog.

  • Abbasi June 4, 2014, 4:09 am

    This is really helpful for my finals. Such a great weblog. Always helped me out in understanding communication theories. Thank you

  • Mandu Etim June 26, 2014, 4:05 pm

    Media may not ALWAYS be succesful in telling people HOW they should think about issues…

  • Comfort Biney July 19, 2014, 3:01 pm

    its been helpful refreshing my memory.keep the it alive

  • Ommy October 30, 2014, 2:37 am

    Thank you so Much this has been really helpful in my assignment!and it has made me understand more on mass communication effect theories!

  • chandrika November 15, 2014, 1:13 am

    thanks a million!! im now confident of answering a 5 mark question!!

  • Umer Wani January 14, 2015, 10:24 am

    Thank you for posting such a valuable information or explanation of the above mentioned theory. Each and every aspect of theory has been covered. Keep it up

  • artykuł April 16, 2015, 7:50 pm

    What’s up to every single one, it’s truly a nice for me to go to see this site, it contains priceless Information.

  • Nayere Masambu May 27, 2015, 10:14 pm

    You’ve explained this critical theory in simple sentences and easy to understand. Thank you. By the way, Im undertaking a research paper on defamation law. Kindly suggest any two best theories that can inform my theoretical framework.

  • KEMISOLA A August 30, 2015, 12:34 pm

    I found this material very useful. Good job.

  • juma September 15, 2015, 2:42 pm

    nice theory

  • olayinka saheed olaitan January 13, 2016, 8:22 pm


  • samia sauood November 10, 2016, 3:19 pm

    good explain

  • Nakyobe Roy July 31, 2017, 12:02 am

    oh Clinton this is so good.thanks lots for the good works i appreciate dearly.

  • Lyynn Sheila Shiraku April 10, 2018, 3:15 pm

    Agenda setting theory is very nice with the view of framing news to be understood in a different perspective….

  • PACOTO EMMANUEL May 2, 2018, 4:58 pm

    This blog really made it so easy for me, thanks alot and BRAVO.

  • mailos September 12, 2019, 1:13 am

    I need more critisms of agenda setting theory am having final exams tomorrow of audience theories and analysis. here in Malawi at LUANAR,

  • mailos September 12, 2019, 1:22 am

    thank you in advance

  • Selina November 4, 2019, 7:40 pm

    Excellent, please explain THIS theory fully

  • GEOFFREY November 21, 2019, 3:55 pm

    The theory is well explained and very relevant…

  • Khaled Alyami December 27, 2019, 6:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting and important information.

  • Muhammad Muhammad December 30, 2019, 12:31 pm

    Thanks a lot! It’s helpful.

  • Steve January 15, 2020, 1:32 pm

    How does this can be applied to effectivness of Radio programs on importance of conserving trees along lakes

  • Emmanuel Akayeti October 9, 2020, 8:03 am

    This is a good write up on the topic. A Postgrad Student in Communication ( Media Studies) UEW

  • Bivash February 5, 2021, 10:21 pm

    I am glad to see this information. keep it.

  • Alad-ad Joe whe Oyo-a March 19, 2021, 9:15 am

    Thank you

  • Swinnie March 25, 2021, 9:34 am

    This has helped me in my exam on mass communication. Thanks for this very important information now I clearly understand agenda setting theory

  • Aghono Pelagie ezieh January 24, 2022, 10:02 pm

    Well explained but areas like framing and priming still have some lapses

  • Tunmise March 22, 2022, 9:33 pm

    Pls what about the relevance of agenda setting theory on newspaper?

  • Neema Paul June 14, 2022, 1:10 am

    This help me alot in my mass communication theory presentation as I was assigned on this specific theory… thanks

  • Pamela November 2, 2022, 6:49 am

    Media influence on public agenda

  • omeike princess March 17, 2023, 10:29 pm

    its nice but i would appreciate more on the criticism

  • Dhanish Ahmmed April 3, 2023, 11:51 am

    The concepts are very much interesting!

  • Jhon June 22, 2023, 4:51 pm

    Thanks this help me alot

  • Laura June 22, 2023, 4:52 pm

    i really love your article

  • Danai Kelly Kubare October 2, 2023, 8:24 am

    Nice information

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