Media often make choices when reporting international events. Their choices often lead to different interpretations of a single issue. This process is called “framing.” Framing is defined as constructing and assigning meaning to a given issue by emphasizing and or excluding certain aspects of the events that surround this issue (Zaharopoulos T. 2007).
How media report about an event will influence how their audiences understand that event. Through framing, media influence how their audiences make sense of events. Stories can be framed through media’s choice of headlines, words, sources, etc.
Most frames seem entirely appropriate –viewers of news programs or viewers of articles are not aware that the news is being framed. The way to detect these frames is through content analysis –often of multiple news outlets. Content analysis, or textual analysis, “may be briefly defined as the systematic, objective, quantitative analysis of message characteristics. It includes the careful examination of human interactions; the analysis of character portrayals in TV commercials, films, and novels; the computer-driven investigation of word usage in news releases and political speeches,” etc (Kimberly A. Neuendorf 2002).
The following is a brief example of how three media outlets covered a single international event –and how each outlet differently framed the event.
In February 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao began a 12-day African tour taking him to eight countries on the continent. His visit attracted substantial media attention worldwide. While the event was covered by various media across the globe, each wrote differently about his visit:
- On February 11, 2007, The People’s Daily from China, published an article titled, “A Tour of Friendship and Cooperation to Africa.” The article reported by a governmental newspaper of China focused on the development of the friendship between China and African countries and suggested that Hu Jintao’s visit played an important role in broadening the cooperation between both sides. For the full story, go to: http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrb/html/2007-02/11/content_12360667.htm
- In South Africa, the Mail and Guardian newspaper titled its article: “China's Hu Brings Hope, Pride to War-torn Liberia.” The story spoke positively of Hu Jintao’s generosity for China’s grants and soft loans to the countries he visited, including Liberia. Hu also offered debt relief and agreed to projects worth millions of dollars to help Liberia rebuild after its civil war that ended in 2003. Quotes from both Hu Jintao and President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia appeared prominently in the story. For the full story, visit: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2007-02-02-chinas-hu-brings-hope-pride-to-wa...
- In the UK, The Guardian newspaper published an article titled "Chinese aid to Africa may do more harm than good, warns Benn: UK says cash and cheap loans will lead to debts, Fears for good governance over no-strings handouts." The article focused on Hilary Benn, the secretary of Britain’s Department for International Development, and his critique of China's plan to give nearly $5 billion in soft loans and aid to several African nations. Benn used words like “warning” and “problems” to describe Britain’s opinion of the plan, even though Britain was not directly involved with the transaction. For the full story, visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/08/development.topstories3
The authors of this lesson plan conducted their content analysis of these three stories by creating what is called a “code book” – a formal way of asking questions about the content of news stories.