What Is Most Important for My Country Is Not Most Important for Me: Agenda-Setting Effects in China

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Employing a public opinion survey and a content analysis of local media, this study sets out to examine of the agenda-setting effect in China. China is highlighted in this study because it is a …

Employing a public opinion survey and a content analysis of local media, this study sets out to examine of the agenda-setting effect in China. China is highlighted in this study because it is a collectivist, socialist nation whose mainstream media is largely controlled by the state. Data from this study reveal that (a) Chinese people make clear distinctions between issues of personal importance (their personal agenda) and issues of national importance (their social agenda) and (b) the agenda-setting function of Chinese media was only observed when considering one’s social agenda; the personal agenda was not related with the Chinese media agenda. These findings hold true when comparing across different demographic groups on variables such as age, education, news source, and one’s ability to critically analyze news. This article contributes to agenda-setting scholarship by providing empirical evidence of agenda-setting effects in a political and media structure substantially different from the Western structures usually examined in such research.

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  • 1. Gouliang Zhang Gousong ”Oliver” Shao Nicholas David Bowman Setting the Public vs. Private Agenda in Chinese Media Shao, G., Zhang, G., & Bowman, N. D. (2011). What is most important for my country is not most important for me: agenda setting effects in China. Communication Research, 38(5).
  • 2. Background
    • State-run media
      • Earliest agenda-setting function was to mobilize youth to the Communist Party (40s)
      • A shift to “malevolent manipulation” approach, which led to a loss of trust in the media (60s)
      • Movement to openness in governance brought media system away from “blunt propaganda” (70s)
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011 Quotes from Zhang, Shao & Bowman ( 2011 )
  • 3. Background
    • Truly open?
      • 80s to today we see a shift to “picture close to reality” but with an opinion environment “favorable to political stability and economic development”
      • This perceptual shift might make the influence more successful in China
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011 Quotes from Zhang, Shao & Bowman ( 2011 )
  • 4. Background
    • Cultural influences on agenda-setting
      • US
        • focus on individualism, privacy and advancing personal causes over social ones (cf. Triandis, 1995)
        • Individuals have a right (and responsibility?) to question their government (cf. Becker, 1958)
      • China
        • Emphasis on the collective, sacrifice for the greater good (Shih, 1999)
        • Lack of sharing “deviant” information (i.e., differing from the collective) (Noelle-Neumann, 1974)
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 5. Background
    • Cultural influences on agenda-setting
      • Chinese media culture creates:
        • high need for orientation about national welfare
        • invariant, uniform messages from one media source to the next (state-run)
        • lack of sharing of (perceived) alternative interpretations of the media agenda (such as the public agenda
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 6. Research Questions
    • Assuming that individuals can differentiate between their social and personal agenda
      • H1: The agenda-setting effect in China should be such that the correlation between the media agenda and an individual’s social agenda will be stronger than the same correlation with an individual’s personal agenda
      • RQ1: Is there a meaningful correlation between an individual’s personal and social agenda?
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 7. Method
    • N=835 phone interviews, Nov 2000, RR2=42%
    • All respondents were Shanghai residents
    • 55% male, mix of students, laborers, executives, retirees and unemployed
    • Over-representative of:
      • Males (sex ratio 122.22 > population ratio 105.74)
      • College degree (38% +/- 5.08 > 22% +/- 2.57)
      • Other metrics on par with population
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 8. Method
    • Public Survey
      • Two open-ended questions (Gallup):
        • “ What do you think the most important problem facing the country/yourself nowadays?”
      • Reliance on mediated vs. non-mediated news
      • Readership of People’s Daily , Jiefang Daily , or Xinmin Evening News
      • Media literacy/critical ability questions
      • Demographics (coded into 3 groups for age and education)
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 9. Method
    • Content Analysis
      • People’s Daily : main State newspaper
      • Jiefang Daily : Shanghai Communist party news
      • Xinmin Evening News : market-oriented newspaper
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 10. Method
    • Content Analysis
      • Coded 1 May to 1 December 2000 (seven months)
      • Sampled every six days, total of 114 newspapers
      • 6046 total stories, even distribution across sources
      • Aggregate-level issue salience from seven major issues ( κ = .92):
        • Political development, economic problems, transportation and environment, public safety, Taiwan, health care reform, WTO
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011 56 open-ended issues  13  7 for analysis
  • 11. Results 11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 12. Results 11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011 R2 = .29 R2 = .62
  • 13. Results
    • Social & personal agendas only correlated with:
      • Elder respondents
      • Poorly educated
      • Non-mediated
      • Media not real
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 14. Discussion
    • Chinese citizens:
      • Make distinctions between the social and personal agenda
      • Media agendas correlate strongly with the espoused social agenda, not the personal
    • Consistent with a culture that (a) emphasizes the distinction between national and personal interest and (b) encourages the suppression of personal interest to national ones
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011 Individual Differences Elder respondents seemed to lack the ability to distinguish social and personal agenda, possibly due to a lifetime of socialist orientation? Low media users reported the strongest relationship between media and social agendas!
  • 15. Limitations
    • Data is 10+ years old
      • More international coverage of China since then (e.g., Beijing Olympics, US investments)
    • Correlational, not causal
      • Cross-lagged correlations?
    • Broad-issue focus
    • Attitudes, not behaviors
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011
  • 16. Conclusions
    • In a culture that emphasizes a divide between public and private thought, public thoughts are both:
      • Influenced by (state-run) media
      • More likely to be shared publically and acted upon
    • A faux, but influential , agenda
    11/10/11 (c) ND Bowman, 2011