A Work on Agenda - Setting Theory; Example of “Kızlı Erkekli” Debate in Turkish Politics


Changing scope of media is an inevitable result of neo-liberal economic transformation of the world which is still ongoing all around the world since the barriers against the more conservative economic system has been down began in 1980's. When the New Right movement had come into power by the hand of the Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan in United States, the great transformation process started to stir in economic structure with liberal and conservative conception. From the very start, there are two oxymorons seem come together such as liberal and conservative, although this new ideological identity works with harmony all parts of the world espicially in the new roaring economies. In this new economic structure, new media environment produce “need of security” perception which can easily make people consentient to dominance tools handling by the new right governance. All these changings conducted in the name of free market economy, but its competition pillar seems forget or at least deemed as not necessary at all. Thus, the point is not consist of a economic system which had changed, but also aims of the media owners are evolved regard to getting more monopolistic power as an media owner in the market instead of perfect competitor.

Today's world, media is not only a tool that make people be informed, but also shape their minds for what should be thinking. In new economic structure, new media environment also effects people’s thoughts so that the media studies area looks for eliciting how it works. In this regard, there are conceptions such as forming public opinion, agenda setting theory and agenda building theory which give us academical view about mass media and its criticism.

What I research into this paper is to enlight how Maxwell E. Mccombs and Donald L. Shaw's “Agenda Setting Theory” have intercourse with the reality by using a popular debate in Turkish politics; “Kızlı Erkekli Debate”. “Kızlı Erkekli” debate is first announced by the Prime Minister of Turkish Republic R.Tayyip Erdogan during an intra-party meeting speech and then it leaked by Zaman Newspaper Correspondent to public which started the intense discussions, so the debate was rapidly being popular all the way media environment. Erdogan’s speech could cushily define as a negative conatation which had strong criticism about mixed-gender student houses and contained threatening those who live in this manner nevertheless he had no chance to legitimate it thanks to constitution. In spite of the fact that there can be no legal way to get reach to people's own houses without any court decision, Erdogan told the same story in the following days and keep the debate warm on purpose or not. In those days, Turkish public discussed it exceedinly where they learn almost everything from the media outlets. This is why we focus on newspapers to apprehend how agenda-setting theory (the case is overlapping with agenda building conception which theorizes under agenda-setting theory) works in full view.

First, in this paper I present to the readers some information about the historical background of the newspapers with putting down the current situation of them as the world is much more globalised. Then I mention what Mccombs and Shaw's Agenda – Setting Theory is and what they wanted to present as an academic theory to the media studies. I also discuss other academical works on the same path.

Second, I will devolope my approach to test the Agenda Setting Theory in reality by using a popular debate “Kızlı Erkekli” which explains with more details in this paper. For this aim, I had chosen some newspapers from Turkish printed media and I explain to the readers why I had chosen them. In this regard, I also discuss what are my advantages and disadvantages by chosen them. In my approach, I looked down these four newspaper’s front pages and separated them three parts as “Headlines” “Subhead” “Other Parts”. Thus, I try to show up how a given case used by media outlets which are operated by media owners who have different positions in relations with government. Some have pro-government editorials, some haven’t which can be effected to the manners they are in. I try to reveal which newspaper reflect PM's speech positively and which one is not or uncommitted to the given debate.

Finally, I give a piece of conclusion which simply evaluate what I found in my work. The discussion also reflects my analysis on how hegemonic media system works in Turkey and how government effects on free -in theory- media by imposing their purposes on behalf of political return. The conclusion has criticism about Turkey's media environment which is under very strong pressure by the oppressive government.


In our work definitely we cannot prove the agenda setting theory. This work presents a perspective about whether or not there is an agenda building in Turkish media in trace of the theory. As we know that it is a social science practice so that the theory cannot easily prove just like other theories in positive sciences. Thus, we only get an opinion from there. We think that our choosing from out of over a hundred national newspaper is very much satisfying in case of depicting the real situation of media environment in Turkey. In this sense, this work shows that as a Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has an agenda building capacity, but he has some frontiers such as the capability of be directed the debate as how he wishes. Media is a power that sets its own agenda independently. Shape of this agenda very much related with the sociocultural structure of society which the newspaper mainly focus on. In other words, one common case can be shaping by newspaper companies and be producted with a different results. The readers, as well, choose their newspapers in regard to editing process of the same cases, because their aim is to see their values in the news when they are reading. This is how the system feeds itself again and again. Neutral, impartial news production as written in the handbooks of liberal – pluralist theory cannot be possible in Turkish media and this process contrary to theoritical ethics assertion which is “interpretetion has to be left to the reciever”. Although, it has to be indicated that while it is conjunctural, what Zaman Newspaper did in this debate is deserving to be appreciated. Apart from other newspapers, Zaman keeps its neutral position in this debate and do what an impartial newspaper should be done. However, this neutrality is no longer valid as we see what has happened in Turkey relating with Cemaat / AKP conflict. As far as we might understand from all the things that happened, Zaman’s neutrality is only can be seen as a silence before the storm. To my surprise, it was just a tactical stance and do not any business with the ideal media values.

As a conclusion, we must say that the so-called free media environment has never been a reality in Turkey’s experience since it conducted even with a global vision. Dirty end of the stick, this problematic environment is getting worse day by day with rising reactions by government to the mass upheaveals and political contradictions. The rough oppressions coming from the governmental side to the media owners which pave the way through journalists losing their jobs or exposed to the cencorship / autocencorship while they are working. While the oppression upon the media from government is getting higher after Gezi Park protests, corruption allegations etc., the more targeting media as a agenda setter is also increasing. Politicians try to use them as propaganda tools and media owners let them to do it in order that gaining public tenders.

Consequently, the lose of editorial independence become such a serious case which threatening the real interests of public. In this manner, the Turkish media now seen as consist of two dimensions; governmental editorial or non-governmential editorial. Cumhuriyet, Hurriyet and now Zaman are just constituting the non-governmental side, while Star is fully devoted itself to the interests of government. All of these have none of a business with the normative conceptualizing as the liberal – pluralist theory’s assumptions signifying, but seem like more a battlefield which will show who will get the iron throne. The only thing now very clear that is the result is won’t be bright for the media and public no matter who will get that unsavory victory.

For full paper: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5c5cjm1krfz7zgp/A%20Work%20on%20Agenda1.pdf?dl=0


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