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Principles of Risk Risk and the Media (and other influences)

What this covers

Risk Perception The Media and Risk Reporting Media Influence on Risk Perception
Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) Framing Trust

Empirical Evidence References

Influences on Risk Perception (1)

Our perceptions of the magnitude of risk are influenced by factors other than numerical data Risks perceived to be voluntary are more accepted than risks perceived to be imposed Risks perceived to be under an individual's control are more accepted than risks perceived to be controlled by others Risks perceived to be have clear benefits are more accepted than risks perceived to have little or no benefit Risks perceived to be fairly distributed are more accepted than risks perceived to be unfairly distributed
(Fischhoff et al. 1981)

Influences on Risk Perception (2)

Risks perceived to be natural are more accepted than risks perceived to be manmade Risks perceived to be statistical are more accepted than risks perceived to be catastrophic Risks perceived to be generated by a trusted source are more accepted than risks perceived to be generated by an untrusted source Risks perceived to be familiar are more accepted than risks perceived to be exotic Risks perceived to affect adults are more accepted than risks perceived to affect children
(Fischhoff et al. 1981)

Risk Perception & World-Views

World-view = orienting disposition (Dake) Strongly linked to public perceptions of risk
Fatalism e.g. I feel I have very little control over risks to my health Hierarchy e.g. Decisions about health risks should be left to the experts Individualism e.g. In a fair system, people with more ability should earn more

Egalitarianism e.g. If people were treated more equally, we would have fewer problems
Technological Enthusiasm e.g. A high-technology society is important for improving our health and social well-being

The Media & Risk Reporting

The Media
National & regional Broadsheet, mid-market, tabloid

TV & radio news TV & film drama Magazines & trade press Audience size and profile Commercial / public service Ownership / political bias - interests Free / censored

Four main news agencies - AP, UPI, Reuters and Agence-France Presse - together claim to provide 90% of the total news output of the worlds press, radio and television

Media Reporting Whats News?

Some generalisations:
Human interest stories Bad news more than good news People's perspectives
Ordinary people Experts Government Politics

Black and white answers - simplicity

Yes or no / safe or unsafe

Facts & figures - information Front-page news stories the big issues


Media Reporting Whats News?

Considerable evidence exists that the media engage in selective and biased reporting that emphasizes drama, wrongdoing and conflict . . . (Johnson and Covello, 1987) Media reports tend to concentrate on rare but dramatic hazards, and often fail to report more common but serious risks, such as motor vehicle accidents . . . (Soumerai et al, 1992)


The Media on Risk

Risk is not a category but scare stories are Significance of infotainment The media avoid real science Importance of individual journalists & editors who chooses the stories The significance of interactions between media the battle for scoops Absence of investigative journalism and information hunger Length and time of coverage fresh information or new news Differences by media type soundbites, quotes, visuals, etc Role of pressure groups Dealing with uncertainty and controversy

Whats News in the UK - Evidence

HSE Report

Whats News in the UK - Evidence

Stages of Media Coverage

1st Stage The Vacuum
much speculation/inaccuracies while the media search for sources and key informants

2nd Stage Under the Spotlight

Media focus on crisis and how it is being managed

3rd Stage Recovery Period

media had lost intense focus and coverage wanes

The New Media

Web sites Blogs Social networks Mobile telephones

Privatised Anyone can now contribute to the news media Personal focus
Networks & the strength of weak ties Six degrees of separation concept Diffusion word of mouth amplification

Media Influence

Key Concepts
As we go about making sense of our world, mass media serves an important function as the mediator of meaning
telling us what to think about (agenda-setting) how to think about it (media effects) by organizing the information in such a way (framing) that it comes to us fully conflated with directives (cues) about who is responsible for the social problem in the first place and who gets to fix it (responsibility).
The Frameworks Institute

The Media and Audiences (1)

Hypodermic Needle Model
1920s start of mass media era Propaganda was rife Audiences are passive and heterogeneous Information is unmediated Opinions can be easily changed by the media Experience is not important Power of the media is total Outmoded & too simplistic, but still prevalent in relation to moral panics

Limited Effects Model

1940s - Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet Information does not flow directly from media to public It is filtered and influenced by opinion leaders Information is mediated by the audience along with the thoughts and ideas expressed by the opinion leaders There is a two-step flow
Power of the media is diminished Also now unfashionable

The Media and Audiences (1)

Uses & Gratifications
1960s-1970s Blumler & Katz Focus on an active audience (rather than passive) How people make sense of the media Four main purposes:
Diversion Personal Relationships Personal Identity Surveillance

Reception Theory
1980s-1990s Focus on how individuals receive and interpret messages How their background influences this interpretation Halls encoding/decoding model (producer/consumer)
Can be differences in the two readings Use of recognised codes and conventions creates a level of agreement preferred reading

Still in use and has been updated for newer media

The Media and Agenda-Setting (1)

The press and the media do not reflect reality, they actively filter and shape it Media concentration on issues leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues

Levels of agenda
First-level agenda setting what issues the public should think about (amount of coverage Second-level agenda setting how the public should think about those issues Inter-media agenda setting some media are more powerful and influence other media

The Media and Agenda-Setting (2)

The power of the media
Gate-keeping the media have control over what content is covered identifying the key issues Priming the media control the amount of time and space given to certain issues identifying the relative importance of the issues Framing the media defines how issues are packaged and thereby influence their interpretation central to second-level agenda setting

"The evidence that voters tend to share the media's composite definition of what is important strongly suggests an agenda-setting function of the mass media. (McCombs
and Shaw, 1972)

Three Step Approach
Sopow, 1994

Main Point Focus

Unique New

Technical Support

Public Linkage

Research Evidence

People say Public demand Strong support

Key Phrases

Only Last


What Prompts the UK News?

What Prompts the UK News?

Share of Voice

Share of Voice

Media Influence & Risk

Questions About Risk Perception

What can we say about how media influences public perception of risk?
Are risk agendas set by the media? How much of risk perception is due to the media? Which elements of risk perception are influenced by the media? How does the media frame risk issues? Is there any difference in perception when risk communication via the media is intentional and deliberate?

Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF)

Conceptual framework conceived in late the 1980s in the USA Media are important transmitters of information Media is a potential amplification station
Increases the volume of information Increases salience of certain aspects of the message

There is a ripple effect as the information spreads through layers of interest groups

Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF)

SARF & Risk Acceptability

Weaknesses of SARF
Presented as a linear process Risk is reified and separated from underlying and pre-existing interpretations of issues Focus on the individual rather than complex social and group processes Simplifies the interplay between grounded experience and knowledge Focus on amplification of risk and on this as a negative process Failure to account for power of organisations

Criticisms of SARF

Media literature does not wholly support the amplification theory (more salience) Suggests the media is homogeneous and decontextualised Suggests the public is passive Not relevant to the British media (?)
National reach Differences of opinion Role of tabloids Role of the BBC

An Alternative View
Risk is a field of contest Government agencies, corporations and civil groups compete to advance their definition of the situation and to secure public support The media role is
To act as a channel of communication To provide a mechanism of public feedback To articulate public opinion To provide a site of debate and discussion To act as a watchdog To actively campaign in their own right
HSE Research Report, 2000

Framing Theory
Santos (2004) argues that to frame is to select certain issues to make them more salient in order to present a particular angle that influences meaning making "Framing is the process by which a communication source, such as a news organization, defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy" (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997) "Every frame defines the issue, explains who is responsible, and suggests potential solutions. All of these are conveyed by images, stereotypes, or anecdotes." (Ryan, 1991)

What is a Frame?
Elements typically found Frames are often actively in news segments that selected with a specific may signal meaning: audience in mind metaphors Frames can be created by the messengers media and by those visuals organisations they are messages reporting on stories It is helpful if your preferred numbers frame is supported by the context media
the media tend to accept the frames provided by the dominant institutions currently active in the debate (Singer and Endreny, 1987)

Framing News on Risks

Journalists need to answer the question What have we here?
They draw on past incidents that appear to be similar and which audiences are likely to remember Rather than thinking of news stories as reports about distinct and separate events (as implied in SARF) it is more useful to think of them as episodes in a continuing narrative, built around sets of master themes and central images

Framing News on Risks

Framing involves three interlinked processes: connecting new events or phenomena to instances that are already familiar from past coverage and incorporating them into continuing narratives, as the latest episode in an unfolding story; contextualising them by linking them to other resonant contemporary issues anchoring them in the deep seated fears, anxieties and beliefs carried by popular expression and images with extensive currency

Thinking About Framing

How do you frame your risk issue? How does the public frame the issue? How does the media frame the issue? Is one affected by the other?
Public Media Media Public

Do either of these support or contest your frame of the issue? How does their framing affect their choices & actions? Is it possible to reframe your issue in the public or media arenas?

Media Influence & Risk Issues

Media output can only amplify or attenuate an issue if it resonates with existing public mood Media is not a message system but a symbolic system Visual communication is increasingly important The public are not passive recipients - they are media savvy Responses to media are refined through everyday experience Media is important where people have no direct or personal experience of the issue
Petts et al, 2001

Source of Knowledge Varies

GM Foods

Train accidents

Air Pollution

Trust & the Media

Trust & the Media

It is generally agreed that it is far easier to destroy trust than it is to create it or re-create it
Just as individuals give greater weight and attention to negative events, so do the news media. Much of what the media reports is bad (trust-destroying) news Another issue is the rise of powerful special interest groups, wellfunded (by a fearful public) and sophisticated in using their own experts and the media to communicate their concerns and their distrust to the public to influence risk policy debates and decisions
Slovic, 1999

Trust & Risk

One of the key areas in risk communication is that of who is trusted and why Trusted sources
E.g. consumer organisations, medical doctors Perceived to be knowledgeable and concerned with public welfare

Distrusted sources
E.g. government, corporations with vested interests Perceived to distort information, to have been proven wrong in the past, and to provide biased information

However, trust is also associated with moderate accountability

Industry is often perceived to be over-accountable The tabloid press is perceived to have too little accountability and to sensationalise risk information Frewer et al, 1996

Who Do We Trust?

Source: Environment Agency

Who Do We Trust?
Who does the public trust?

Trust by Risk Issue

Trust by Risk Issue

Recent example:
Hospital Superbugs October 2007