Do the Media Tell People What Others Believe to be Important Regarding a Life-threatening Cause? An Examination of Agenda Setting at the Micro-level in a Health Context.

TitleDo the Media Tell People What Others Believe to be Important Regarding a Life-threatening Cause? An Examination of Agenda Setting at the Micro-level in a Health Context.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Shen, B., and W. Gonzenbach
Affiliation (1st Author)The University of Alabama, USA
Section or WGMediated Communication, Public Opinion and Society Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeMCPW3a
Slot Code (Keyword)MCPW3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleMaking news in crisis and risk situations
Submission ID6253

Since the initial investigation on agenda-setting research (McCombs & Shaw, 1972), hundreds of studies have demonstrated the positive correlation between the amount of media coverage and the perceived importance of issues held by media users (Bryant & Oliver, 2009). Notwithstanding the numerous studies on agenda setting, the majority of them have concentrated on political salience and voters salience. Whether the media successfully tell the people what to think about regarding health-related issues remains questionable. The mass media have been long recognized as one of the primary sources of medical news and pharmaceutical information (Tanner, 2004). According to the report Health Topics released in February of 2011 by Pew Research Center, 80% of U.S. Internet users searched health information online, which was the third most popular online activity. Almost half of the respondents of a 2002 Gallup poll indicated that they had consulted their doctors when encountering medical problems directly from the media (Newport, 2002). However, does the health news coverage accurately reflect the salient level of various diseases? If not, are the public and policy makers ill-informed about opportunities and obstacles in this regard? In 2009, for example, H1N1 received billions more in funding than malaria while the reported mortality rate of H1N1 was at least 98 percent less than malaria. It is possible that the extensive media attention received by H1N1 contributed to this difference. Research on TV news coverage and breast cancer also revealed a distinct linkage between media attention and mammogram testing (Corbett & Mori, 1999). Therefore, the question of priorities may not only be influential on political activities, but also in health contexts. Examining people’s perceptions on causes of death in the media agenda may sound somewhat problematic, since selective exposure has greater impact on people’s life in health contexts than in political contexts. In order to overcome this theoretical weakness, Huck, Oliver, and Brosius (2009) initiated a systematic model of the integration between agenda-setting processes and third-person perceptions. They claimed that this model would help to explain why “many of the larger societal and political problems of our time are never tackled by members of the public (in contrast to members of the political system)” (p.8). As stated in one of the early investigations on agenda setting, future research in this area “must consider both psychological and sociological variables; knowledge of both is crucial to establishment of sound theoretical constructs” (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, p.187). By incorporating the third-person perceptions into the agenda-setting processes, the present study examined how people perceived life-threatening diseases or leading causes of death (e.g., heart disease, cancer, motor vehicle accidents, suicide, homicide, and HIV/AIDS) under four different circumstances. A total of 292 respondents participated in the survey study. The research results indicated that salience of the six causes of death in the perceived public agenda was positively associated with respondents’ personal agenda. Furthermore, such an association was weaker than that between the perceived media agenda and perceived public agenda. Some other interesting research findings and implications were also discussed.

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