Who Makes the News? Agenda Setting by Public Relations Offices and News Media

Sergejs Kruks, Guntars Veidemanis, Kristīne Rižņikova, Ligita Vaita

Applying quantitative and qualitative methods of content analysis to the national news flow in Latvia the researchers have found a strong dependence of the media agenda on the agenda set by public relations offices of government and big corporations. The top-down information flow is structured and mediated by the largest news agency LETA. By comparing LETA’s national news with press-releases the program WCopyfind has revealed that 43% of the news stories include texts from these press-releases. Two thirds (66%) of the remaining news stories represent one-sided opinions from a single source of information, politicians being the most popular (36%) of sources used by journalists.

Internet news portals rely mostly on LETA’s stories. Setting their own media agenda is extremely rare. Only 4% of stories published by Delfi.lv and TVnet.lv were not covered by LETA. Only 2% of the stories produced by journalists of Apollo.lv were original. Evening newscasts of public television LTV and commercial LNT and TV3 also follow the agenda compiled by LETA which lists the upcoming events organized by government and big corporations. Moreover, the qualitative analysis demonstrates that the journalists also reproduce their institutional frames of reference on problem issues.

Latvian audience evaluates negatively the quality of national news coverage. In a representative opinion poll held in 2014, 59% of the respondents agreed that the media ignored public opinion (13% could not formulate an answer). This research suggests that there are strong reasons for this critical attitude. We argue that the growth of political populism accompanied by a decreasing trust in qualitative media results from the lack of pluralism in information sources and national news agendas.