Those who follow the news are used to seeing spin around political scandals. Many audiences now recognize when media or political actors spin the news to distract the public’s attention. Can audiences also learn to recognize the strategic use of political framing?
Framing is a central concept and an everyday tool for those who work in the fields of political communication, public opinion, and electoral campaigns. For the past ten years, communication professor Carlos Múñiz has researched framing in Spanish and Mexican media, focusing on social representation and electoral campaigns.
Global Voices: How do you define framing?
Carlos: I would say that framing is a tool used by people to build a discourse that influences the public’s perception of reality. It is a tool used by journalists, used by politicians. If you pay attention, you can see framing in all kinds of political communication.
Global Voices: Given your work in this area, we assume that you think that it is important to understand framing. But, why do you think is it important?
Carlos: It is important because, to a great extent, frames can determine how public opinion gets configured. It can have important effects in relation to the mobilization of citizens, voters; in relation to their decision to support or reject certain policies.
Global Voices: Can you give us an example that illustrates the importance of framing in recent news coverage?
Carlos: Recently in the Catalonia case, one could see a predominant frame of an “illegal or unconstitutional referendum” when international media started covering this topic. On October 1, suddenly the frame became that of the exercise to vote was being prohibited (provoked by the images of police repression).
Global Voices: What could an average reader do to understand news beyond the frames provided by media?
Carlos: The way in which framing is used is correct as long as we have the ability as citizens to contrast different frames. Going back to the news around Catalonia, if I want to be really informed, I need to contrast two newspapers with a completely different points of view, “La Vanguardia“, which is based in Catalonia , and “El País” from Madrid. We need to read the two versions. We need to contrast framings.
Global Voices: What could a journalist do to break with his or her own framing or biases?
Carlos: The problem really is that framing can cause clashes with the journalist’s method of objectivity.
It is important to try to provide the two sides of the story, to try to contrast within the same text the arguments of different frames. This is not always easy. This implies training and access to data that is not always available to the journalist. It also requires solving the problem of the pressures that the journalist might be subjected to, from his superiors, to construct the message along a predetermined editorial line.
Global Voices: What are the challenges faced by people who research about framing in the present time?
Carlos: The biggest problem is the diversity of frames that you need to analyze. Especially in politics which, as a result of its spectacularization, includes other elements that hide the real frame. Another difficult part is the analysis of framing in platforms other than journalistic ones, such as social media. In these cases, we are in a field where we don’t know who builds the messages. A last challenge is to develop comparative studies about framing, this is something that we are not achieving in Latin America.
Global Voices: Can you tell us a little bit more yourself?
Carlos: I coordinate the Political Communication Laboratory [Laboratorio de Comunicación Política (LACOP)] at Nuevo León University. Our laboratory conducts research focusing on public opinion, and effectiveness of messages, social media, monitoring and analysis of media content. I have worked on the representation of indigenous people in fictional content. Currently, I am working mainly in the analysis of the framing of electoral processes, and the development of political attitudes.
Global Voices: Given that Global Voices is an international community, we always like to know about the contexts from where people are speaking. How would you describe your environment?
Carlos: I obtained my doctorate in communications at the University of Salamanca, in Spain, where I focused on the framing in news about migration. Then I moved to Mexico, where I first worked at the University of Monterrey, and now I am working at the Nuevo León University.