Effective media relations
One of the reasons why public relations practitioners use media relations to get their message across is the media’s role in forming public opinion. Lazarfeld and Katz’s (quoted in Wilcox et al. 2003: 213) agenda-setting theory puts forward the idea that the media determine what people think about by selecting the stories that go on the front page or are included in nightly television news programmes. For the public relations practitioner, getting something onto the media agenda is the first step. In some situations, the media can also tell people what to think. If people cannot get access to other points of view, they can become dependent on the media’s slant on a story. This often happens in a war situation, where limited news is available and often heavily censored by the military. While it is now easier to gain access to different points of view via the internet, most people’s information will come from the mass media, leading to a tabloidisation of the issues. On the other hand, if the public relations practitioner for an organisation is the main source of information on a subject, say a new drug or scientific development, it is possible for them to shape the tone of the debate. Framing can also magnify the effect of media dependency. Wilcox et al. (2003) cite Tankard and Israel’s work analysing the news coverage of the Bosnian war, when ‘Ruder-Finn framed the issue as Serb genocide against Bosnian Muslims’. The media picked up on this and started to use emotive phrases such as ‘ethnic cleansing’. Lastly, cultivation theory suggests that events in the news are packaged into highlights. Repeated often enough, and given the media’s tendency to concentrate on conflict and crisis situations, people get a false view of what is actually happening. Whenever a child abduction hits the news headlines, the media tend to emphasise the number of child molesters who have been released from prison and warn parents about ‘stranger danger’, rather than concentrate on the facts that most children are harmed by someone they know.