The role of the media in the construction of public belief and social change

Happer, C. and Philo, G. (2013) The role of the media in the construction of public belief and social change. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 1(1), pp. 321-336. (doi: 10.5964/jspp.v1i1.96)

95393.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Publisher's URL:


The media play a central role in informing the public about what happens in the world, particularly in those areas in which audiences do not possess direct knowledge or experience. This article examines the impact the media has in the construction of public belief and attitudes and its relationship to social change. Drawing on findings from a range of empirical studies, we look at the impact of media coverage in areas such as disability, climate change and economic development. Findings across these areas show the way in which the media shape public debate in terms of setting agendas and focusing public interest on particular subjects. For example, in our work on disability we showed the relationship between negative media coverage of people on disability benefit and a hardening of attitudes towards them. Further, we found that the media also severely limit the information with which audiences understand these issues and that alternative solutions to political problems are effectively removed from public debate. We found other evidence of the way in which media coverage can operate to limit understanding of possibilities of social change. In our study of news reporting of climate change, we traced the way that the media have constructed uncertainty around the issue and how this has led to disengagement in relation to possible changes in personal behaviours. Finally, we discuss the implications for communications and policy and how both the traditional and new media might help in the development of better informed public debate.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Happer, Dr Catherine and Philo, Professor Gregory
Authors: Happer, C., and Philo, G.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Journal Name:Journal of Social and Political Psychology
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2013 The Authors
First Published:First published in Journal of Social and Political Psychology 1(1):321-336
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record

Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
547881News Media and Public Beliefs and Behaviours in Relation to the Transformation of the energy System: Climate Change, Technology and ResourcesGregory PhiloNatural Environment Research Council (NERC)NE/I006532/1SPS - SOCIOLOGY