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

Media influence affects the order of presentation in news reports about news events, issues in the public mind. More importance to a news-more importance attributed by audience. Media Priorities It says what people should think about and how people should think about.

These are the levels of agenda setting theory:

First Level:

Mostly studied by researchers, media uses objects or issues to influence the people what people should think about.

Second level:

Media focuses on the characters of issues how people should think about.

Agenda setting theory used in political ad, campaigns, business news, PR (public relation) etc.

The main concept associated with the agenda setting theory is gate keeping. Gate keeping controls over the selection of content discussed in the media; Public cares mostly about the product of a media gate keeping. It is especially editors media itself is a gatekeeper. News media decides ‘what’ events to admit through media ‘gates’ on ground 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.


Activity of the media in proposing the values and standards by which objects of the media attention can be judged. Media’s content will provide a lot of time and space to certain issues, making it more vivid.

To say in simple words, Media is giving utmost importance to a news so that it gives people the impression that is the most important information. This is done everyday the particular news is carried as a heading or covered everyday for months.

Headlines, Special news features, discussions, expert opinions are used.

Media primes a news by repeating the news and giving it more importance E.g. Nuclear deal.


Framing is a process of selective control

Two Meanings

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

Framing talks about how people attach importance to certain news for e.g. in case of attack, defeat, win and loss, how the media frames the news such that people perceive it in a different way.

We can take India and Pakistan war; same happening is framed in different ways in both the countries. So depending on which media you view your perception will differ.

Criticisms of Agenda setting theory is

  • Media users not ideal, people may not pay attention to details.
  • Effect is weakened for people who have made up their mind.
  • Media can’t create problems. They can only alter the awareness, Priority etc.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

nalwoga sharon September 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

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

nalwoga sharon September 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm

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

DONALD March 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm

the importance of agenda setting i full

DONALD March 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm

agenda settings in full

marriam saeed May 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

short criticisum

laffor peter May 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm

this theory is explained very well

Brown Dauglas November 27, 2012 at 11:29 am

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

Justine July 30, 2013 at 11:55 pm

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

immaculate December 16, 2013 at 11:00 pm

the relevance of the Agenda Setiing theory to my country Uganda

mahado December 30, 2013 at 8:34 am

thanks a lot this helped me a lot

grandmother May 28, 2014 at 7:43 am

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Abbasi June 4, 2014 at 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 at 4:05 pm

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

Comfort Biney July 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm

its been helpful refreshing my memory.keep the it alive

Ommy October 30, 2014 at 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 at 1:13 am

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

Umer Wani January 14, 2015 at 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 at 7:50 pm

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Nayere Masambu May 27, 2015 at 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 at 12:34 pm

I found this material very useful. Good job.

juma September 15, 2015 at 2:42 pm

nice theory

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


samia sauood November 10, 2016 at 3:19 pm

good explain

Nakyobe Roy July 31, 2017 at 12:02 am

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