Political agenda setting is the part of agenda-setting research that refers to the influence of the media agenda on the agenda of political actors. More precisely, the central question of political agenda-setting research is whether political actors adopt the issue agenda of the news media in various aspects ranging from communicating about issues that are prominently discussed in the news media to prioritizing issues from the news media agenda in political decision making. Although such effects have been studied under different labels (agenda building, policy agenda setting) for several decades, research in this field has recently increased significantly based on a new theoretical model introducing the term political agenda setting. Studies based on that model usually find effects of media coverage on the attention political actors pay to various issues, but at the same time point to a number of contingent conditions. First, as found in research on public agenda setting, there is an influence of characteristics of news media (e.g., television news vs. print media) and issues (e.g., obtrusive vs. unobtrusive issues). Second, there is an influence of characteristics of the political context (e.g., government vs. oppositional parties) and characteristics of individual politicians (e.g., generalists vs. specialists). Third, the findings of studies on the political agenda-setting effect differ, depending on which aspects of the political agenda are under examination (e.g., social media messages vs. political decision making).
Homonationalism, as defined by Jasbir Puar, refers to the growing embrace of LGBT rights by (mostly Western) nations, as well as the parallel complicity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and associations with nationalist politics. First developed in the context of the U.S. “war on terror,” where the United States presented itself as exceptionally LGBT-friendly in contrast to “homophobic” Muslim others, the concept of homonationalism was quickly adopted by authors across the world and in different disciplines, writing on a number of LGBT-friendly in-groups in contrast to a number of homophobic out-groups. Besides the United States, other Western countries figure prominently as in-groups in this literature, particularly Western and Northern European ones, but also larger regions such as the European Union (EU) as well as subnations such as Catalonia and Québec. Muslims constitute the most prominent out-group in homonationalist discourses, although other groups and regions also appear, in particular, African countries and, in the European context, Central and Eastern Europe as well as Russia. In each case, a simplistic opposition is set up between a homogeneously modern and LGBT-friendly “us” and an equally homogeneous antimodern homophobic “them.” These discourses are prominent in (often right-wing) politics but are equally replicated across a range of media, which play a crucial role in the spread of homonationalist discourses but remain underexplored to date.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Congress, with allies in the news media, created legislation that came to be known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was designed to help hold the federal executive accountable to the public. It became law in 1966. Its significance can be understood in several contexts: (1) in connection with a special relationship of journalists to the operation of the FOIA; (2) in terms of arguments that transparency in government is necessary for citizens’ informed participation in democracy and that, on the other side, there are strong democratic arguments that transparency should be limited in the pursuit of other legitimate values, some of them recognized in the language of the FOIA itself that government agencies may deny a citizen's request for information on the grounds that honoring the request could endanger national security, personal privacy, the integrity of internal government deliberations, or other significant objectives; and (3) that freedom of information law are one institution within a wider web of institutions and practices dedicated to holding government accountable. In this regard, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act can also be seen in a broad context of a cultural shift toward “openness” and a political shift toward what has been called a “monitory” model of democracy.
In spite of journalism’s transnational nature, there is no common history of the subject and thus no common history of journalism in authoritarian societies, a field which can only be studied by bringing together historical facts about journalism in societies that experienced authoritarian regimes at some point in their history. Journalism in authoritarian societies is closely linked with forms of manipulation and censorship. While censorship is older than journalism, it was the rise of journalism as a profession that prompted authoritarian states to develop fully fledged censorship mechanisms and systems. The first forms of censorship of the printed word were introduced by the Catholic Church shortly after the printing press was invented in the 16th century. But it was from the 17th century on that censorship models aimed at controlling the emergent periodical press were created by absolutist monarchies. Secular institutions gradually took over censorship from the church, developing a more complex control system that would methodically check on the printed information distributed widely to the general public. While censorship systems were scrapped in most of Europe for a short period during the 19th century, the following century saw the rise of more sophisticated and repressive forms of censorship. They were developed by fascist dictatorships in several European countries and by the Soviet system in Russia. These models, particularly the Soviet propaganda system, influenced a spate of authoritarian regimes in communist nations all over the globe during the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s sounded the death knell of a series of authoritarian regimes, heralding an era of press freedom and independent journalism. But many regimes, particularly in the former Soviet Union, soon revived old authoritarian practices to keep their people under control. In spite of the limitations on journalistic coverage in authoritarian societies, journalists reacted in various ways to all sorts of authoritarian practices, ranging from harsh censorship systems to less intrusive, yet effective, controlling mechanisms. They did so either by seizing opportunities that appeared during more relaxed political times or by developing circumvention tools that allowed them to reach out to their audiences. The rise of the Internet brought about new opportunities for journalism to reach and engage audiences, as governments struggle to push back by designing new forms of control and censorship.
Studies of how children and young people relate to news have made important contributions to the field of journalism. As early as the early 1900s, children’s and young people’s news exposure was considered with interest. News exposure plays an important role for citizenship in democracies, and for news media organizations, recruiting new generations of audiences is important for survival in the future. From the early days, scholars have mainly focused on four areas in studies of news children and young people. First, the role of mass media as an agent of political socialization and how news exposure can inspire children and young people to civic engagement. Second, the introduction of television and television news increased the numbers of studies of children’s and adolescent’s emotional reactions to news coverage, and the emotional reactions to violence in the news coverage in particular. Third, an increasing focus on children’s rights and children as a minority group has further inspired studies of representation of children and young people in the news. Finally, inspired by methodological approaches focusing on people’s motivation for the use of different media and how they were used (“uses and gratification” studies), a main area for researchers has been to grasp how children and young people engage with news and how they do so in changed media environments. In the last decade, journalism studies have increasingly focused on how children and young people receive, evaluate, produce, and share news in social media.
The concept of nation-state has historically been defined as peoples having some manner of territorial and political self-determination; cultural, linguistic, or religious affinity; and economic independence. Recent forces of globalization have made the nation-state increasingly vulnerable to and dependent on capital, corporations, and/or more powerful states. Such integration of the nation-state in the global world has also led political actors to reverse course and seek ethno-nationalist agendas where differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, and other identity markers are used to inflame fears or defend against economic, cultural, and environmental dislocation among a nation’s citizens. Journalists face critical challenges as the nation-state gets reconfigured. These challenges include the rise of new media technology as a force of division and the rise of ethno-nationalism. Research shows that new media platforms expanded not only the definition of who can create content but also the range of topics covered. Positive opportunities, alternately, are undermined by the reality that non-media factors—historical, political, economic, and social divisions—continue to determine not only the diffusion and adoption of new media but also its influence; each nation has its own cultural equations and socio-historical footprints on which new media gets imposed. Journalists, as part of national media systems, increasingly find themselves operating in an environment where they are competing with non-regulated technologies and supra-national information landscape. A core belief propagated by new ethno-nationalists is an anti-media bias, where all news is perceived to be left leaning or “liberal” in nature and content, and therefore open to criticism and censorship. The reprieve from such narratives of ethno-nationalism is the model of global journalism, which makes possible transnational information sharing.
Lindsay H. Hoffman
Political knowledge is a concept of central importance in political communication research, yet exactly how it should be operationalized has been a long-running conversation among scholars. The study of political knowledge is rooted in democratic theory, which suggests that citizens should be informed if they are to participate in a democratic society. Political knowledge is also referred to as political sophistication or political expertise. Generally, political knowledge is defined as holding correct information, but the type of information can vary dramatically from study to study—from civic knowledge to issue knowledge to candidate information to the structural relationships among cognitions. Because political knowledge is so often seen as a bedrock of a democratic society, scholars often examine what cultural, economic, and political antecedents play a role in increasing or decreasing political knowledge. However, knowledge can also be examined as a predictor of behaviors such as voting, a moderator in the study of framing effects, or a mediator between communication and political behavior. But the problem that plagues political knowledge research, just as it has plagued scholars of general knowledge for centuries, is how to measure it. Like general knowledge, which is often measured in exams or through IQ tests, political knowledge isn’t directly measurable. Political knowledge, then, cannot be fully captured in a series of test questions. The challenge facing scholars interested in this important variable is one of measurement and interpretation, which means that there are many ways to measure political knowledge.
People use the news media to learn about the world beyond their family, neighborhood, and workplace. As news consumers, we depend on what television, social media, websites, radio stations, and newspapers decide to inform us about. This is because all news media, whether through journalists or digital algorithms, select, process, and filter information to their users. Over time, the aspects that are prominent in the news media usually become prominent in public opinion. The ability of journalists to influence which issues, aspects of these issues, and persons related to these issues, are perceived as the most salient has come to be called the agenda-setting effect of journalism. First described by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in a seminal study conducted during the 1968 elections in the United States, agenda-setting theory has expanded to include several other aspects beyond the transfer of salience of issues from the media agenda to the public agenda. These aspects include: the influence of journalism on the attributes of issues and people that make news; the networks between the different elements in the media and public agendas; the determinants of the news media agenda; the psychological mechanisms that regulate agenda-setting effects; and the consequences of agenda setting on both citizens’ and policymakers’ attitudes and behaviors. As one of the most comprehensive and international theories of journalism studies available, agenda setting continues to evolve in the expanding digital media landscape.
Ran Wei and Larry Zhiming Xu
The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.
Zazil Reyes García
Political cartoons are rhetorical artifacts where journalism and popular culture intersect. Through the use of images and words, facts and fiction, political cartoons provide their readers with a point of view: a single frame loaded with vivid images and condensed meaning. Political cartoons perform several political and social functions; the main one is to provide political commentary on current events and social issues. Additionally, cartoonists often see their work as a weapon against the abuses of power. Thus, they seek to expose and ridicule the powerful. The result is not always funny, but it is often surprising. Political cartoons are valuable objects of study for many disciplines, such as art history, journalism, and sociology. Studying political cartoons can give us information about past and present political processes and social imagery; it can also serve to understand how visual elements are used to communicate; but most importantly, it provides insight into the cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes of the societies that produce them. Political cartoons are a form of communication with extraordinary rhetorical power. In order to construct meaning, and in hopes of persuading their audience, cartoonists use different rhetorical strategies, such as the use of metaphors and widely known cultural references. Like other rhetorical artifacts, political cartoons are not a straightforward form of communication. To understand one cartoon, people require multiple literacies, and often different people have different readings. Although the influence of political cartoons has diminished in some parts of the Western world, they continue to do political work around the world.