‘Framing' is an important theory in the study of communication. These years, there has been an increasing tendency that a lot of scholars become interested in the field of ‘framing' and ‘framing analysis'. While, there is a lack of exact definition of ‘framing'. Thus, it is quite easy to use ‘framing' inappropriately.
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The aim of this study is to better understand the concept of ‘framing' and how does ‘framing' work. Firstly, this paper reviews previous research and attempts to generalize how ‘framing' works. Secondly, this paper employs ‘framing' theory to analyze The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) News online coverage ofThailand Red Shirt protests from 2009 to 2010. Finally, this paper strives to critically evaluate the usefulness of ‘framing analysis'.
What is ‘framing' and how does ‘framing' work
It seems difficult to make the exact definition of the term ‘framing'. Entman (1993, p.51) describes it as ‘scattered conceptualization', because ‘framing' theory is related to several different fields, such as sociology, psychology, communication, and politics, and so on and so forth. The idea of ‘framing' is originated from anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1972) and then primarily introduced by sociologist Eriving Goffman (Reese, 2001). As Goffman (1974) writes, frames are the ‘schemata of interpretation', by which people can ‘locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly infinite number of concrete occurrences defined in its limits' (p.21). Gitlin (1980) considers frames mainly contains ‘persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusion…' (p.7). Afterwards, many scholars continue to develop and amplify framing theory. Entman (1993) indicates ‘to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text…' (p.52). Reese (2001) points out ‘framing' emphasizes ‘the way events and issues are organized and made sense of…' (p.7) and describes frames as ‘active, information generating, as well as screening devices' (p.11). Apart from that, scholars McCombs and Ghanem (2001) observe that framing is the ‘second level of agenda setting' and it is ‘the transmission of attribute salience' (p.69). As mentioned above, it is not difficult to find something in common. All of these scholars suggest some significant characteristics of the concept of ‘framing', which are selecting and highlighting. Thus, Entman(1993) perfectly sums up ‘ framing essentially involves selection and salience' (p.52) and also generalizes four functions of framing, which respectively are ‘problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation'(p.52) According to Entman(1993, p.52), a text firstly need to ‘define problems', telling the readers what happens here; and then ‘diagnose cause', indicating the cause or reason of the problem described; and next try to examine and assess the cause and impact of this event—‘make moral judgments'; Finally ‘suggest remedies', recommending some solutions to deal with the problem. (see Entman, 1993).
What is more, Entman (1993) suggests that there are four critical factors when doing framing analysis, which are ‘the communicator, the text, the receiver and the culture' (p.52) and these four factors provide the possibility to clearly study how ‘framing' works. As Entman (1993) writes, ‘Frames highlight some bits of information about an item that is the subject of a communication, thereby evaluating them in salience' (p.53). Nevertheless, frames can be influenced by both external factors and internal factors. According to Zhou and Moy(2007) external factors include ‘cultural resonances', ‘sponsor activities', ‘political culture' and ‘social culture' and so on (p.81). Shoemaker and Reese(1996) also list a series of internal factors, such as 'background', ‘characteristics', ‘personal attitudes', ‘values', ‘beliefs', ‘professional roles' and ‘ethics'(p.66-95), which may consciously and unconsciously affect the frames of the communicators. Guided by frames, the communicators select what to say and how to say. Likewise, there are frames inside the text. Entman (1993) believes, in one text, ‘the presence and absence of certain keywords, stock phrases, stereotyped images, source of information… thematically reinforcing clusters of facts or judgments'(p.52) and text can stress certain part of the reality via ‘placement' and ‘repetition' (p.53). However, Graber (1988) claims that the frames of the text is not always having an effect on the thought and idea of people. Since receiver's beliefs, attitudes, cultural value and their existing schemata will also exert effect on their perception and acceptance of the frames in the text. In particular, some scholars (Entman, 1993; Hertog, & McLeod. 2001) find out there is a tight connection between culture and framing. Entman (1993) designates ‘culture' as a ‘common frames' (p.53) and it plays a significant role within the framing process, affecting the interactions among the communicator, the text and the receiver. Additionally, Hertog and McLeod (2001) indicate culture is the source of power for frames, owing to its ‘symbolic power', ‘excess meaning' and ‘widespread recognition' (p.141).
In short, framing is the process of selection and salience. Within the procedure of communication, frames have the power to decide what can be displayed and what should be screened: frames put emphasis on certain part of the reality, drawing people's attention, guiding their interpretation and perception and influencing public evaluation and reaction. At the same time, frames downplay and even eliminate some aspects of the problem. (see Entman, 1993). This is the process of framing and clearly exhibit how framing constructs social reality and ‘structure our understanding of social phenomena' (Hertog and McLeod, 2001, p.142).
Case study—Thailand Red Shirt protests 2009-2010
Before doing framing analysis, it is important to pay attention to following points:
According to Hertog and McLeod (2001), although different frames consist of different inside structure, the most fundamental and vital approach is to find out the chief concepts constructing frames. Hertog and McLeod (2001) points out ‘A common feature at the core of most frames is a basic conflict' (147). Hertog and McLeod (2001) recommend focusing on the presentation, standpoint and opinion of the actors in that coverage and remind us to be aware of the news source because ‘the source chosen will structure the discussion' (p.148). Next, Hertog and McLeod (2001, p.148) suggests that every frame may have its own ‘narrative' and they regard the narratives as ‘powerful organizing devices' that arrange and classify a variety of ideas, opinions and discourse and so on. Although Hertog and McLeod (2001) acknowledge the great influence of narrative on framing analysis, they still observe ‘their very excess meaning and efficiency may make them hard to identify in text' (p.148). Additionally, as Hertog and McLeod write (2001) ‘each frame has its own vocabulary' (p.148). Therefore, to examine the repetitive frequency of certain words and diagnose the usage and function of particular expressions may to some extent contribute to framing analysis.
Hertog and McLeod (2001) reckon that framing analysis can greatly help people to understand social protest, collective riot and public manipulation. Many scholars (Gamson et al, 1992) are devoted to studying the relationship between framing and social movement/social protest. And Hertog and McLeod (2001) have already concluded the five main frames for social protest and social riot, which respectively are ‘the riot, confrontation, protest, circus, and debate frames' (p.156) and they tell the criteria of categorizing these five frames, including ‘the nature of the conflict portrayal; metaphors and narratives used; the emphasis or lack thereof concerning the social critique … the portrayal of the police and the portrayal assigned to bystanders. Especially salient features of the stories included headlines, photos, and direct quotes' (p.156).Next, this essay will refer to ‘framing' theory and invoke the research finding of Hertog and McLeod (2001) to analyze the BBC News online coverage of Thailand Red Shirt protests during 2009-2010.
Since the former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed in a coup in 2006, a great number of his supporters have launched several large-scale anti-government protests resulting in mass casualties. The Red Shirt protesters are exerting pressure on the governmental authority and forcing them to dismiss the parliament.
‘The riot frame'
The Red Shirt protesters and the Thai society are two significant actors in the text and their conflict is exactly the core of the riot frame. According to the research of Hertog and McLeod (2001), the news coverage prefers to use ‘riot' to describe such social protest and always follows a common narrative: At the very beginning, the protesters or marchers behave somewhat regularly and rationally. And then, somehow the conflicts escalate and quickly deteriorate into a bloody riot. Hereby, the government deploys police or even military come to suppress the riot. Within the news coverage, ‘The police symbolized social order and lawful behavior. They were forced to protect bystanders and property … but did not instigate any violence on their own' (Hertog and McLeod, 2001, p.156). For instance, on April 11, 2010, the BBC Online News reported clashes between Thai troops and Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok, and more than 800 were hurt in the riot. In this news, Thailand Prime Minister Vejjajiva asserted ‘Soldiers …would only have fired live rounds into the air and in self-defence …The government and I are still responsible for easing the situation and trying to bring peace and order to the country' (BBC News, 2010).
‘The confrontation frame'
As Hertog and McLeod (2001) states, the heart of the confrontation frame is exactly the conflict between the protesters and the police. Guided by the confrontation frame, the text focuses on the behaviors and reactions of both the protester and the police, and usually uses words such as ‘ battle, confrontation, and scuffle, clash, etc' to portray their conflicts. On April 6, 2010, the BBC News covered the terrible scuffles between Red Shirt protesters and the police, delineated the whole process of this clash in detail and accentuated the strategies and actions of both sides. As this news reported that a protest leader Nattawut Saikua said ‘From now we will make an offensive move ... Let our people ... march to all the banned 11 routes immediately. If there's anything blocking us, break in with peace'; ‘The security forces have said publicly that they will not use force to disperse the protestors... The government sought to calm the atmosphere' (BBC News, 2010).
‘The protest frame'
According to Hertog and McLeod (2001), the protest frame does not appear as much as first two frames and it is concerned about the conflict between the protesters and other social organizations. On April 17, 2009, the BBC News reported that the leader of Thailand's Yellow Shirt protest movement got shot. The news spotlighted 'The attack comes just days after protests by the yellow-shirts' sworn enemies, the pro-Thaksin red-shirts, came to an end' and even went further to point out ‘The attack will increase tension between reds and yellows and lead to greater factionalism in an already deeply divided country' (BBC News, 2009).
‘The circus frame'
Unlike aforementioned frames, the circus frame turns its focus to the ‘deviance' and ‘oddity' of the protester and displays ‘how the group differs from mainstream society'. (Hertog and McLeod, 2001, p.157). On March 16, 2010, the BBC News covered that Thailand's red-shirt protesters donated their blood and splashed blood under the gates of Government House in order protest against the authority. The accounts implied the bizarre behaviors of the protester, ‘Not all of the blood has been used. Red-shirt leaders said more would be poured at other sites if their demands were not met'; ‘Health officials, the Red Cross and even the protesters' figurehead, Mr Thaksin, expressed concern about how hygienic the mass blood donation was'. Nevertheless, the protesters still felt proud, ‘This is a very symbolic way to express that our blood, the people's blood, is power' (BBC News, 2010).
‘The debate frame'
According to Hertog and McLeod (2001), the debate frame exhibits the ideological conflicts. However, this frame may not be suitable for the case of Thailand Red Shirt protests. Although, there are many serious controversies, divergences and conflicts between the Red Shirt protesters and the Thailand government, all of those do not rise to the level of ideology. No matter Red Shirt or Yellow Shirt, no matter Abhisit's government or Thaksin's government, they all have similar cultural value and ideology. In fact, the substantial reason behind their conflicts is the power. They fight against to each other in order to seize power. Hereby, the conflict between the Red Shirt protester and the Thailand government are not supposed to be the ideological conflicts. The debate frame is not common in the news coverage of Thailand Red Shirt protests.
The usefulness of ‘framing analysis'
Dietram (1999, p.104) regards framing as ‘the construction of social reality' and framing is powerful to shape people's interpretation and perception of social reality. As Hertog and McLeod (2001) writes ‘frames determine what content is relevant to discussion of a social concern' (p.142), that is to say, certain information which is picked and stressed by the frame may become a popular social issue. While, the facts omitted by the frame are irrelevant to the public discussion. By this way, a huge amount of information is categorized into varied frames. Hertog and McLeod (2001) also indicate that framing not only has the power to define ‘the roles varied individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions play' (p.143) but also can organize and associate diverse values, beliefs and behaviors. Most important, framing analysis can display the substantial principles, value inside the content (Hertog and McLeod, 2001), which may help the readers and audiences go deeply into the text.
This essay reviews the previous research on ‘framing' and summarizes that framing is the process of selection and salience (Entman, 1993). It employs previous framing theory to examine the specific case of BBC News online coverage about Thailand Red Shirt protest during 2009-2010 and finds out framing has strong and extensive effects on the news coverage of social protests. Finally, this essay evaluates the effect of ‘framing analysis' and demonstrates that framing is powerful to structure people's understanding of social reality.
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Bangkok clashes death toll climbs to 21, with 800 hurt. BBC News [Online]. (April 11, 2010).
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Thai 'yellow shirt' leader shot. BBC News [Online]. (April 17, 2009).
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