The Effects of Frames in Political Television News on Issue Interpretation and Frame Salience

Article excerpt

This experiment investigated the effects of television news frames on (1) audience, interpretations of a political issue, (2) the salience of news frames versus other information in the story, and (3) support for future policy. A sample of 145 adults watched an experimental television news bulletin produced in cooperation with reporters and editors at a national television news program about the enlargement of the European Union. A news story was manipulated to reflect a conflict frame or an economic consequences frame. The two frames provide direction to the audience's thoughts about the issue but do not yield different levels of policy support. Frames in the news are as important as core facts in a news story when citizens conceive of a political issue.

Frames in the news may affect our perception of issues and generate specific evaluations about politics. By means of activation of certain constructs, news can encourage particular "trains of thought"1 which citizens may make use of in subsequent judgments. This study investigates the effects of two news frames commonly identified in content analyses: the conflict frame and the economic consequences frame. The conflict frame follows from the observation that news about politics and the economy is often framed in terms of disagreement between, for example, individuals or political parties. In this way of framing the news, controversy and diverging aspects between conflicting parties are emphasized.2 The economic consequences frame reflects a "preoccupation with the 'bottom line,' profit and loss."3 Focusing on the economic consequences of an issue is a frequently observed strategy for packaging the news and news producers use the consequence frame to make an issue relevant to their audience.4

Facts or Frames?

The study builds on previous research to investigate the salience of news frames. Many authors suggest that a news frame consists of specific elements, also called framing devices (e.g., the headlines, introductions, lead-outs etc.).5 These studies explicitly define the news frame as distinct from other elements in the news. Conceptually, we may conceive these elements of a news story as the frame while other elements may be referred to as core news facts (e.g., answers to the questions of when, where, and who). In fact, most experimental framing studies implicitly apply this conceptual distinction in their operationalizations by keeping a core part constant and varying, for example, headlines and opening and closing paragraphs to constitute the framing manipulation.

It remains an open question, however, whether audiences pick up more of the news frame or the core news facts when conceiving of an issue presented in the news. This current study disaggregates a news story into different elements and subsequently assesses the salience of the different elements. Extant media effects literature has discussed salience as a dependent variable (e.g., agenda-setting research assesses the salience of audience issues) or as an independent variable (e.g., priming research where the salience of certain considerations drives evaluations of political leaders). Framing is also a process of selection and salience and to frame is "to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient."6

Recent advancements of second-level agenda-setting suggest that in addition to setting the agenda of issues, the media may also set the agenda in terms of, for example, candidate attributes.7 Studies in Spain found that attributes of candidates emphasized by news media correlated with candidate attributes salient to media audiences.8 Corroborating experimental evidence suggested that emphasis on candidate attributes in the news was mirrored by readers.9 Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley and Druckman have demonstrated how frames also make certain considerations more salient for subsequent judgments.10 News frames affect attitudes by stressing specific values, facts, or other considerations and endowing them with greater relevance to an issue than would an alternative frame. …