Media Framing of Third Sector Activities in Europe

Anker Brink Lund, Anton Sylvest Lilleør

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    This report from the ITSSOIN-project contains content and framing analyses of 8463 items on third sector activities sampled from the year 2013 in leading national and regional newspapers from nine European countries, posing the research question: How are third sector activities and social innovation framed by European news media? The analysis is one part of the deliverable D2.3 ‘Images of the Third Sector’ of the ITSSOIN project. D2.3 has been conceptualised to evaluate perceptions of media and citizens attitudes towards the third sector. Both perspectives are published as distinct and independent papers. Readers also interested in the citizen perception find more insights in the publication ‘Empirical analyses of citizen perceptions of the third sector in Europe’. The introduction (section 1) demonstrates that little relevant media research has been published specifically on third sector activities related to social innovation policy and civic engagement. Consequently, it is argued that more empirical research is urgently needed, and that a framing perspective, drawing upon the growing literatures of agenda-setting and diffusion of innovation, is particularly relevant for studies of this kind. The media content analysis (section 2) summarizes the major trends in mediated discourse on third sector activities in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom 2003-2013. These tendencies are related to social innovation policy streams documenting that the latter is covered to a minimal extent. In all the countries under study, journalism tends to neglect innovative performances by the third sector. In so doing, mass media may not directly influence public opinion by telling people what to think, but rather indirectly by indicating to the decision makers what (not) to act upon. The framing analysis (section 3) indicates that third sector activities – in marked contrast to business and politics – do not have high priority as a news reporting beat in their own right. The third sector is primarily mediated with localized references to specific organizations and individuals performing advocacy and services provision on a non-profit basis. In the relatively few instances where social innovation policy in a more general sense is related to the third sector media coverage, the reporting is overwhelmingly loyal to government views. Four hypotheses are tested (section 4) showing that the press framing of the third sector is generally positive. It is also demonstrated how social innovativeness is less pronounced in press coverage than other civil society values, e.g. voluntarism and civic engagement. Most of the press coverage is consensus-oriented leaving little room for anti-establishment frames. Especially after the financial crisis of 2008, “volunteering” and “civil society” have become political catchwords regarded by governments as well as journalist to be universal solutions to social problems. Finally, an affinity between the media framing of different third sector fields and civil society roles is indicated. Advocacy is particularly emphasised in relation to environmental sustainability and community development. Service provision is stronger in relation to social services and healthcare. Please note that the study is explorative rather than explanatory in scope. Accordingly, we advise caution in drawing general conclusion from the limited amount of data available (section 5), and call for more empirical and comparative research involving a broader variety of media platforms, including electronic- and social media.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationBrussels
    PublisherEuropean Commission
    Number of pages53
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2015
    SeriesITSSOIN - Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation - Project Deliverables
    Number2.3 (Part I)

    Bibliographical note

    Deliverable 2.3 (Part I) of the project: “Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation” (ITSSOIN), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme.

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