Agenda-setting and issue definition in the lone-parent family policy area : the roles of political actors in setting and shaping the media agenda in Great Britain in 1993
Lone-parent families were in the news in 1993 as never before. The Child Support Agency, and the question of lone-parent families' entitlement to state support were the feature of many news reports. This study examines this media coverage and, using concepts from agenda-setting and issue definition literature, examines the roles that political actors have played in the construction of these media reports. A content analysis of a complete sample of 77ie Times and 7he Sunday Times comprises the primary analytical method, with a policy process framework organising the analysis. It has been found that government ministers played the greatest part in setting the media agendas for these and other issues. It seems that other actors can be successful in shaping coverage, however, if they make use of certain tactics, particularly if they provide 'ready-packaged' stories to journalists that combine a human interest element (involving 'real' people) with a political slant. By mobilising on a mass level absent fathers were able to provide such stories and were thus able to take control of press coverage of the Child Support Agency. The lone parents' groups Gingerbread and the National Council for One Parent Families, on the other hand, found mobilisation and particularisation more difficult due to the social and economic situation of their client group - nine out of ten lone parents are women, and around eight out of ten claim income support benefits - and for this reason were less successful in shaping either coverage of the Child Support Agency, or of lone-parent families and their right to state support.