Agenda Setting Theory in Mass Communication


Agenda is a Planer List of Matters to be acted upon. It means a Plan or Goal that guides someone’s behavior and that is often kept secret. 


  • When a villager comes to a town or a city, he is unaware of the environment of that place and becomes passive in his everyday life. If we want to make him active and confident, we would meet him with a welcoming attitude, a smile, a handshake or a hug so that he may feel comfortable and may approach us anytime. All these efforts to make him comfortable would actually be an agenda on which we are working for the sake of his convenience.
  • When a baby starts going to school, the agenda on which his teachers work would include entertaining him with toys, cartoons and poems etc so that the child could adjust in that organized environment easily.
  • When a company has to launch a new product, they would make it’s advertisement in a colorful and presentable Their entertaining advertisement would be their agenda to promote their product.

The Agenda Setting Theory in Mass Communication

Mass Communication plays an important role in our society. Its purpose is to inform the public about current and past events. Mass communication is defined in “Mass Media” as the process whereby professional communicators use technological devices to share messages over great distances to influence large audiences.

Within this process the media, which can be a newspaper, a book and television, takes control of the information we see or hear.

Agenda Setting:

Agenda setting is defined in “Mass Media” as the process whereby the mass media determine what we think and worry about. The media uses gate keeping and agenda setting to “control our access to news, information, and entertainment”.

Gate keeping is a series of checkpoints that the news has to go through before it gets to the public. Through this process many people have to decide whether or not the news is to be seen or heard. Some gatekeepers might include reporters, writers, and editors.

After gate keeping comes agenda setting.  

  • First Observed:

Walter Lippmann, a journalist first observed this function, in the 1920’s. Lippmann then pointed out that the media dominates over the creation of pictures in our head; he believed that the public reacts not to actual events but to the pictures in our head.  Therefore the agenda setting process is used to remodel all the events occurring in our environment, into a simpler model before we deal with it.

Agenda Setting Theory of Mass Media:

The Agenda Setting Function of the Mass Media was first put forth by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in 1960’s in Public Opinion Quarterly.

They originally suggested that the media sets the public agenda, in the sense that they may not exactly tell you what to think, but they may tell you what to think about.

In their first article where they brought this theory to light they wrote that:

In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance is attached to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues—that is, the media may set the “agenda “of the campaign.

The common assumption of agenda- setting is the ability of media to influence the visibility of events in the public mind. Thus, the concept of agenda setting in our society is for the emphasis to selectively choose what we see or hear in the media.

Levels of Agenda Setting:

There are two levels of Agenda Setting;

  • The first level enacts the common subjects that are most important.
  • The second level decides what parts of the subject are important.

Parts of Agenda Setting:

This process is divided into three parts according to Rogers and Dearing in their book Agenda Setting Research;

  • The first part of the process is the importance of the issues that are going to be discussed in the media.
  • Second, the issues discussed in the media have an impact over the way the public thinks, this is referred as public agenda.
  • Third, the public agenda, ultimately, influences the policy agenda.

Thus, we can say that, Media agenda affects the Public agenda and Public agenda influences the Policy agenda.

Factors affecting the Agenda Setting:

Following are a few factors which may affect Agenda Setting:

  • The combination of gatekeepers, editors and managers.
  • External influences.

These external influences may be from non- media sources, government officials and influential individuals.

These factors affect the agenda setting process to an extent that depends upon the power of that factor which will eventually influence the media agenda.

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”.


Benefits of Agenda Setting Theory:

The theory of agenda setting has many beneficial uses in our society:

  1. It gives media, the power to establish what news we see or hear and what part             of news is important to see or hear i.e. establishes Media Agenda.
  2. It retrieves the opinion of the public.
  3. Agenda setting is very important in the political aspect because the public agenda influences the policy agenda which means that candidates will try to focus on issues that the public wants to hear about and solve.

In conclusion, the agenda setting theory has many beneficial uses in our society and it is the most important part of our communication.

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