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The study of mass media and communication has led to the formation of various communication theories. The theories of communication have helped us understand and predict how media influences the consumers of the information they disseminate. This paper will analyse a media event using one of mass communication theories.
At dusk on 13th November this year Paris, the capital of France experienced a wave of terrorist attacks that included mass shooting, suicide bombing and hostage taking. The terrorists used AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades and suicide belts. The attack left one hundred and thirty dead and three hundred and sixty-eight people injured. The French police killed seven of the attackers during the attack and continued to search for the other accomplices.
Agenda Setting Theory
The Agenda Setting Theory was developed by McCombs and Shaw in 1972. It comes from a scientific standpoint which maintains that individuals who get information from the same media will view same issues as critical. The theory argues that the media sets the agenda by focusing on one certain feature when disseminating information rather than other features in the same event. The media achieves this by selecting, emphasizing, elaborating and excluding other features of the event. By setting the agenda, the media will want to achieve control over the reaction of the conumers.
Analysis of the Media Event with Agenda Setting Theory
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In the news coverage of the terrorist attack on France, the media focus was on the terrorist attack and how many people had died. They then attributed this to the radicalization of the attackers. Radicalisation is whereby an individual comes to adopt extreme social, political or religious beliefs. Here, its Muslim beliefs. Radicalization and the results were placed by the media at the top of the agenda during the coverage. The Agenda Setting Theory portrays media as a gatekeeper. Additionally, the media selected other point of focus and placed emphasis on it. They constantly updated the audience on the numbers of people injured and the numbers of those who had died during the attack as well as maintaining it as the theme of the headlines throughout the coverage. It was repeated over and over again during the coverage of the terrorist attacks. The media never offered a story on why the ‘terrorists’ had carried out these attacks.
During the coverage of terrorist attacks, the media usually focus on Muslim beliefs and radicalisation as the cause of the attacks. This approach can be explained from the viewpoint of the Agenda Setting Theory. Here, the media exclude other factors, for instance, what the terrorists are fighting for and only focus on radicalisation. The repetition of the idea of radicalisation and Muslim beliefs as the main cause of terrorism has led the public to believe the media and share the same sentiments.
This method by the media was identified by Gerbner and later expanded by Gerbner and Gross (1996). They developed the Cultivation Theory which argues that when people spend more time watching television, they tend to accept the beliefs portrayed by the media. So, according to Cultivation Theory, as the media continually blame the terrorist attacks on radicalisation due to Muslim beliefs, the public will start to think so too. They have been successful using this method already, French citizens quickly supported their government’s decision to go to war believing they are fighting terrorists.
Recently, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed that in 2003, they made a mistake to have invaded Iraq. The invasion led to the destabilisation of the region, and the rebels took advantage of the situation; it made them stronger. So the emergence of terrorism technically is not attributed to radicalization but to the destabilisation of the Middle East countries. But the governments have used the media to cover up the real intentions of their operations.
Different theories of mass communication help us understand the mechanism and specifics of informing the general public. According to the Agenda Setting Theory, the media focus on certain pieces of news and their aspects and ignore other bits of information, hence achieving a desired effect. Therefore, when making news on the terrorist attacks in Paris, the media transmitted the belief that the terrorism is about radicalisation and Muslims’ religion without considering other possible factors.
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