Setting the agenda on air pollution : examining the traditional and social media agendas and their relationships 2011-2015




Zheng, Pei

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Under the theoretical frameworks of agenda-setting and authoritarian environmentalism , this dissertation examined traditional and social media agendas on the air pollution issue in China from 2011 to 2015. It adopted Granger’s causality analysis to test the causal relationships among four traditional media outlets (N = 1,147), six types of actors on the Chinese social media platform called Weibo (N = 4,045), and between agendas of traditional media outlets and social media actors. The results showed most of news stories were framed under “publicity and government trust” frame between 2011 and 2012, and under “war on pollution” and “science” frames after 2013. Government officials, environmental scientists and researchers dominated media sources. The state-owned media, People’s Daily, set the agenda for other local and commercial media outlets. Agendas on social media were fragmented with media setting the agenda for NGOs and verified individual’s accounts. Agenda-setting effects existed only between traditional media and media’s Weibo accounts, and between traditional media and verified individuals’ Weibo accounts. The agendas of ordinary people on Weibo were independent of the agendas other social media actors and of traditional media. The opinion leaders on Weibo were mostly business leaders and celebrities. This dissertation is the first study to provide a holistic view and clear trajectory of agendas on air pollution over five years. It explained authoritarian environmentalism from a media perspective and contributed to agenda-setting theory by capturing the fragmented nature of the social media agenda. Methodologically, this dissertation advanced existing study by applying a computer-assisted social media data collection method and conducting a more rigorous causality analysis called Granger’s causality.


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