by Alex Holden
Effective communication of risk is essential to its management . As the media, in particular internet-based media, is considered the first source of information regarding risk for most people, it is vital to understand how it is received around the world. The inherent selectivity of the media means that not all risk events are given fair coverage. When considering natural hazard events, many are given disproportionate responses compared to others of equal severity, and some events are even ‘hidden’ from the public . In my research I observed the global media reporting patterns of natural hazard events using internet-news websites from a total of forty countries across the globe.
Patterns of where natural hazards are reported most, and which type of natural hazards were reported can be observed in Figure 1. A clear dominance of reporting was seen in Asia, and a lack in Africa. This trend was then compared to media responses for eight randomly chosen individual events to determine whether imbalances of reporting were consistent (Figure 2).
Results show a difference in media response of a country per natural hazard event. Unsurprisingly, the country the natural hazard affects is seen to respond most to that event. However, this pattern is not as clear cut as it seems.
The disparity that emerged in global media response was compared to variables of severity, and of social and environmental preconditioning – criteria frequently referred to in literature, however not objectively proven. Creation of a multiple regression model gave insight into dominance of factors when occurring simultaneously. Despite the logical interpretation of media response to be related to the severity of the event and parasitic nature of the media  , it appears to have little influence on the media response. If the event is more severe, it may attract higher levels of reporting, but can be overshadowed by dissimilarity and lack of cultural and physical ties.
In order for a country to report on an event it must share social and environmental qualities, most notably cultural similarity. If two countries share similar values, beliefs and attitudes, then in theory they should be interested in the same ‘news’ (The Confucius Connection, Hofstede and Bond, 1988). This can also be considered in relation to former imperialist powers and colonies as shown by the frequent media coverage dominance from the BBC . It also poses as an interesting comparison for physical distance, which is also theorised to influence media response due to direct impact of the event, or through refugees and immigration . This investigation also showed that the Western world dominated the media response, in terms of both global coverage but also of self-interest shown by specific natural hazard event results.
It is difficult to conclude the potential reasons for patterns emerging without addressing the analytical problems undeniable in any study involving complex social structures such as the media. The study I undertook fully accepts criticism of assumptions necessary to create objective values of cultural similarity and other values included in the multiple regression model. It also acknowledges the difficulty of assessing the news ‘credibility hierarchy’ of individual countries . The study shows an overall trend of global response but does not pretend to fully understand the selectivity of each country’s media.
This project has presented an area of research that is infrequently studied, despite its relevance and wide applicability. This therefore means that the topic is still open for investigation of new variables, but also greater depth of analysis. Developing a full understanding of cultural distance would enhance the theories assessed here. Testing the global multiple regression model would also be beneficial. Observing multiple regression models for each country would indicate if their media report based on different criteria or in a different order of dominance. Interest in informal media for research will also be beneficial to include for further investigation. By including social media feeds indicating temporal trends of which countries hear about specific events first/last would add depth to this study, and would enable greater understanding of communication of risk in the 21st century.
This blog post is based on Alex’s research for her undergraduate dissertation in the Department of Geography at Durham University.
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