Creating media image of the president: the role of official sources in the process of framing television news
In the age of mass communication, the public image of a political actor is substantially shaped by the media, or more specifically, by the way media frame their messages. Media framing (as an important factor in the construction of social reality) fundamentally involves the selection of and emphasis on certain aspects of a perceived reality. As a consequence, events being presented in the news receive dominant/primary meanings. Embedded in the constructionist paradigm and symbolic interactionism, the PhD project draws upon ideas of framing theory, and primarily focuses on frame-building and frame-setting processes. It considers media frames as an independent variable that – among many factors – influences journalists whilst producing news. Current research indicates that with the rise of the public relations profession, official sources (especially public relations and media relations professionals) increasingly build, set and frame considerable portions of the agenda for the media and the public. On the one hand, the official sources have adapted their way of thinking to journalistic conventions in order to get their information into the media, whereas, on the other hand, the profit-driven market model of journalism encourages journalists to lean on official sources to produce complex political news. Moreover, due to their elite status and political power, official political sources have a relatively high media access thereby significantly influencing media workers at all stages of the news production process. To examine the general thesis – that the official sources substantially influence journalists in the process of (re)framing television news, which impacts on (re)creation of the media image of a political actor – the PhD project focuses on the official sources related to the Slovene president and their influence on the television news in 2006. In that year, the media and the public witnessed a considerable image transformation or ‘reframing’ of president Drnovšek. From a conventional politician he became a ‘new age’ critical leader, who (according to the Slovene media) was striving to make the world a better place. The PhD project uses a mixed-methods approach and combines frame analysis of official messages and television news with qualitative interviews with journalists and presidential official sources. While the general thesis might seem trivial at first, preliminary research indicates that the presidential frames were on many occasions challenged by the governmental (elite) frames, who were strongly opposing the presidential frames. These opposing frames affected the image (re)creation of the president in the media and indicated that the news on the president was an outcome of a competitive ‘frame game’.