Who Sets the Agenda in Turkey? Recent Political and Social Trends in Turkish Public Opinion

By Banu Baybars Hawks.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: January 6, 2015 $US5.00

Agenda-setting generally refers to the process in which the perceptions of a given issue are shaped by the mass media, the public, and/or policy elites, and for that reason it has taken on critical importance because, as it has long been argued, the mass media plays a primary role in shaping public opinion. By pointing out the important indirect effects of the mass media (“telling people what to think about”), Bernard Cohen (1963) described a metaphor that prompted research on the processes of agenda-setting. But until McCombs and Shaw’s research on the 1968 presidential election campaign in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the subsequent publication of that research in 1972, agenda-setting remained a theoretical and unnamed idea. In their classic study, McCombs and Shaw empirically tested the relationship between the media agenda and the public agenda. They used content analysis in their measurement of the media agenda and surveyed 100 undecided voters in their measurement of the public agenda. Then they correlated these two agendas and in the end, they found a perfect relationship between the two. Their findings later were confirmed by other researchers including Funkhouser (1973), who found substantial correspondence between public opinion and news coverage. Agenda-setting has henceforth been heavily researched and more than 500 research articles have been published on the issue following McCombs and Shaw’s pioneering study, and the field has become extremely prominent in mass communications. In the past, researchers have tended to focus on what shapes the public agenda and they have treated the media agenda as an independent variable in that process. Recently, however, scholars have begun to carry out studies focusing on who and what shapes the news agenda and they have thus taken the media agenda as a dependent variable. The results of these studies have revealed a variety of internal and external influences that affect the news agenda. The president, public information officers, public relations specialists, interest groups, press releases, and press conferences have emerged as external sources that wield influence over news content. On the other hand, long-standing journalistic traditions, practices, values, and gatekeeping functions have existed as major internal factors that set the media agenda. With their agenda-setting power, the media can motivate policy makers to look at issues and problems that the majority of the public is interested in and can prompt them to take precautionary measures. By setting the agenda about the wrongdoings of policymakers, the media can activate the public and sometimes can cause dramatic changes in the political scene. Knowing the importance of public agenda in the agenda setting and building process, this paper aims to reveal the social and political tendencies of the Turkish public. For that purpose, a survey was carried out in December of 2013 to determine the social and political trends in Turkey for that same year. The subjects for the study, which utilized a questionairre in one-on-one interviews, included 1,000 individuals from 26 cities.
The topics covered by the survey included: The most important current problem in Turkey; the Economy; Terror; Approaches to the Kurdish Issue; Evaluations of the Government and Opposition Parties; Evaluations of Institutional Efficiency; Foreign Policy; the Judicial System/Constitution; The Gezi Protests; Democracy and the Media; and, Social Relations/Life in Turkey. Suggestions are made in the light of major assumptions of agenda-setting and information diffusion studies.

Keywords: Agenda Setting, Information Diffusion,Public Opinion, Media, Government, Politics, Turkey

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 13, Issue 1, March 2015, pp.1-21. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: January 6, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.623MB)).

Dr. Banu Baybars Hawks

Professor and Chair of PR Department, Communication Faculty, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey

Banu Baybars Hawks, (Ph.D. University of Tennnessee, Knoxville, School of Communications, 2002) is Professor and Chair of Public Relations Department at the Faculty of Communications of Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Baybars Hawks’ research interests include media studies, media law, politics, and terrorism.