Media and constitution making: an assessment of their agenda setting role in the adoption of the new constitution in Kenya
Kariuki, Rosemary M
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Agenda-setting theory is about transfer of salience from the mass media's pictures of the world to those in our heads. Elaborating Lippmann's perspectives, the core idea is that elements prominent in media's pictures become prominent in audience pictures. In the metaphorical language of the theory, the media agenda sets the public agenda. Theoretically these agendas could be composed of any set of elements. A vast majority of studies has examined and agenda composed of public issues. For these studies core assertion is that the degree of emphasis placed on issues in the mass media influences the priority accorded these issues in public. This proposition has been supported in more than 200 studies over past 25 years (Dearing and Rogers, 1996) in both election and non-election studies with considerable diversity in their geographical settings, time spans, news media and public issues studied. But agenda setting research has grown beyond this particular point of origin to encompass a wide range of communication situations, including the shaping of media agenda (Dearing and Rogers, 1996: McCombs, 1992). This study is given credence by the core functions of media such as surveillance or being a watchdog to the public, interpretation of facts and data and meaning of significant events, linkage with different elements of societies through advertising, transmission of value or socialization and entertainment. Media is seen as an important link between the public, and the opinion of the public and the decision-making processes of government. A key player in the construction or creation of the public and of public opinion and a means by which the public can come to play a direct and indirect part in the democratic process. 1 nus based on the atoremennonen core tuncnons of media, this study looks at the role of media in constitution making in Kenya, subsequently leading to the August 4, 2010 referendum and adoption of the new laws. An evaluation of the role played by media in the constitution making process in Kenya is critical in understanding how media influences the decision of the political players be they the legislators or voters in a democratic country. The same evaluation could shed light on the relevance of the agenda setting role of the media today. This study delves to establish if there was a causal relationship between the media agenda and the public in the constitution making process in Kenya. The role media played in influences the vote during the constitution referendum held on August 4, 2010. The study explains the role played by media in the constitution making process in Kenya and determines the role of media as opinion leader in influencing the constitution making process in Kenya McCombs (2004) says that agenda setting is a complex and intellectual maps still in the process of evolving. That the role of mass media in the formation of public opinion is changing. With the emergence of new technologies such as internet, mobile phones, cable and satellite television, in contemporary there is need to establish if the diversifying nature of mass media had an impact in the adoption of the new constitution. Did media shape the public opinion? What the public need to know is a recurring phrase in the rhetoric repertoire of professional journalism. Does media agenda really represent what the public need to know? It is common knowledge that most of the information we receive is not through direct experience but second-hand reality, a reality that is structured by journalist reports about this situations and events, through print or television. That daily news alerts us on the latest events and changes in the larger environment beyond immediate experience. That newspaper and television through there day to day selection and displaying news influence our perception. This ability to influence the salience of topics in the public agenda has come to be called the agenda setting roles of news media. Newspapers communicate a host of cues about relative salience of topics on their daily agenda through the lead story on page 1, front page versus inside page, the size of the headline and even the length ofthe story (Mct.ombs, 2004, p.2) The public uses this salience cues to organize their own agenda and decide which issues are important. Over time issues emphasized by media cues become most important hence the agenda of the news media to a considerable degree becomes the agenda of the public. Thus the this study investigates the news coverage by Daily Nation newspapers between May Oland July 31, 2010 to find out if distribution of opinions, how many are for and how many are against and the undecided, influenced the adoption of the new constitution during the referendum campaigns.