Agenda-Setting and Framing: What Does This Mean for Freedom of Expression

The freedom of expression, the freedom of press, and censorship are controlled by the public and the government. The media outlets themselves such as blogs, news channels, and social media platforms are meant to translate the feelings and positions of those they service. However, in order to properly translate the stances of the government, the public, or both, you have to consider the media effects. Media effects center around the presentation of a story. Concepts such as agenda-setting and framing. These concepts effect how media is consumed and thereby interpreted which can lead to censorship, restriction of expression, or even the expansion of expression.


Agenda-setting is the media’s efforts to guide the viewer to what they believe their focus should be on. It is also the allowance of the same article to be shared “frequently and prominently, which leads people to perceive those issues as more important than others”. The concept of agenda-setting looks at the “trending topics” of the day. For example, a source may post about a recent celebrity scandal over state-level tax reform policies. Here, the media crafts the news coverage it wants the public to see, and, in many cases, it crafts the news the government wants the people to see. In relation to expression, this can deny the public’s ability to stay informed and by doing so, this may deny potential future protests from happening. Here, protests, as a form of expression, are being restricted. Agenda-setting can also create a unified public opinion by intentionally withholding political news or criticisms. The repetitive action of agenda-setting is what can cause this influence on public opinion. Its direct effect on expression is clear. Why would anyone care about state level tax reform issues when the hottest celebrity has been caught in a scandal and that scandal has been on the front page of every major media source for the past week. Agenda-setting can be used as a tactic in order to depoliticize the public sphere.


Framing is one step further compared to agenda-setting. Framing looks at the actual content that is being shared by the media. Framing is about influence. How do journalists write the article in such a way that it persuades or influences a certain group of people or the public as a whole?   It can help to shape how we may think about an issue because of how it’s promoted or presented. Framing offers media outlets the ability to present information that has been carefully selected, vetted, and cleaned rather than post a neutral and “raw” article that presents all the information known. On the opposite end, framing also allows for media to restrict access to certain information leaving the public less informed. How does framing effect expression? It goes back to influence and a unified public opinion. I no longer feel the need to fight against the government when the news has been telling me for weeks that the issues I had, have been resolved and that everything is back to normal. When, in reality there has only been a slight fix to one of the issues and there is still need for necessary concern.

So, What Does This Mean?

These tactics used by the media can be worrying to the public. It begins to form distrust between, specifically, the people and the media. People start to ask questions like, is the information reliable and important even though it is not on the first page? Does framing and agenda-setting really work? How do you know if these newspapers are really giving you all of the puzzle pieces to form your own conclusions? The absence of information can limit a public’s freedom of expression and ability to share with the community. Agenda-setting and framing are powerful tools that can be used by the media to shape public opinion, limit information access, and stunt political critics.


I’ve spent this blog post presenting framing and agenda-setting in a negative light by highlighting the potential these effects can have on restricting expression. I’ve essentially framed my own post, ironically. I could argue that I’ve given just enough information on framing and agenda-setting, for an informed actor to begin to pick apart what they consume in the media and question if they have all the information. All that to say that framing and agenda-setting can also be tactics used by independent media and the public on social media to galvanize the public into acting. Flashy headlines, specific word choices (buzz words), and 35,ooo likes on twitter can be enough to create a social movement and encourage people to express their opinions.

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