Framing is about presenting an issue in a specific light and from a specific perspective. Framed messages are usually intended to make the audience focus on certain aspects of an issue but not on others. In terms of governance and accountability, framing is a useful technique to design communication in a way that mobilizes the public. For instance with regard to corruption: to mobilize public opinion on corruption one could focus on successes in fighting corruption, on negative effects of corruption, on corrupt individuals or individual champions against corruption etc. Negative framing, negative messaging in general, is a frequently used approach when trying to motivate people to become active. It's not clear, however, that it really works the way it's supposed to.
The importance of framing policy issues has made repeat performances on this blog. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson simply puts it, frames influence the ways in which we think about things, emphasizing some aspects of a phenomenon and deemphasizing others. Recently in The New York Times, John Broder wrote about the framing of environmental issues in an article entitled “Seeking to Save the Planet, With a Thesuarus.” Broder's piece reports on a document that was accidentally sent to media organizations by EcoAmerica, an organization that has been conducting public opinion research on framing and reframing of environmental issues to build public support for policy change. Here are some findings, as reported by Broder:
“Global problems require global solutions,” a newspaper editorial recently asserted in its analysis of the current economic crisis. From a communication studies perspective, stressing a particular aspect of an issue – in this case, the global nature of the crisis -- is called “framing.” To further one’s position, advocates frame an issue by emphasizing some aspects of the phenomenon and deemphasizing others. Contrasting frames on economic issues have been ubiquitous in the media for some time. Compare, for example, the ways in which The Economist and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight interpret economic realities. Given the current crisis, the framing battle is even more apparent. Protectionists might prefer to focus on a country’s deteriorating local job market and claim that the most pressing need is for government to protect domestic employment or a “domestic jobs frame.” In contrast, those who believe in free markets might argue that protectionist policies will lead to contracting national economies and that the solution is greater liberalization or a “free trade frame.”
For those of us who grew up in developing countries, political discourse about poverty is an everyday thing. Political campaigns in the Philippines, for example, place poverty upfront and center. Candidates for local posts, such as barangay (village) councilor, all the way up to the highest office in the archipelago invariably campaign on poverty issues. For instance, memorable slogans from relatively recent elections include "para sa mahirap" ("for the poor") and "pagkain sa bawat mesa" ("food on every table"). Not at all surprising in developing country contexts where poverty and inequality are so ubiquitous.
These reflections ran through my head as I attended a brown bag lunch CommGAP organized a couple of weeks ago on a Panos London publication entitled "Making poverty the story: Time to involve the media in poverty reduction", authored by Angela Wood and Jon Barnes. Presented by Barnes at the brown bag, it incorporates research findings from six African and Asian countries. The paper makes the case that mainstream media are essential in boosting public awareness and debate on poverty reduction.