The inconvenient truth of environment reporting : Influence of news values on news stories By Dr Archana R Singh
Environment message delivery - Environment information explosion in 1970s - Mass media did not participate - By 1980s TV and print were most reliable media for environmental news - More a person depends on mass media, more he is influenced by it
Media alternates between global cooling and global warming warnings
1895-1930: Coming of Ice age
1920s -1960s : Global warming
1950s-1970: Ice age again
1970s to date: Global warming
India One of the first countries to have included environment as part of the constitution. Press seized the issue only after Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984 After 1992, Rio de Janeiro conference, attitude of press changed Deforestation, water, soil ,air pollution and dams are the issues covered most frequently.
Waits for specific issue to hinge its stories i.e. news peg
Shies away from advocating a specific issue
Public agenda on environment issues is not been formed
Compulsions are inherent in the media
Nature of stories: They should be capable of passing through the four rings of defence
Environment news is reactive Why does media report what it reports?
1. Amount of risk accorded to an environmental topic is unrelated to the seriousness of the risk in health terms 2. Within individual risk stories, most of the coverage isn't about risk. It is about blame, fear, anger and other non technical issues- about `outrage’ not `hazard’. 3. When technical information about risk is provided in news stories it has little impact on the audience. Sandman’s rules of environment coverage
4. Alarming content about risk is more common than reassuring content or intermediate content – except perhaps in crisis situations when the impulse to prevent panic seems to moderate the coverage.
5. Exactly what information is alarming or reassuring is very much a matter of opinion. The media audience tends to be alarmed even by information the experts would consider reassuring.
Sandman’s rules of environment coverage
6. Reporters lean most heavily on official sources. They use more predictably opinionated sources- industry and experts on `safe’ side and activists and citizens on the `risky’ side- when they need them. Government is the number one source of environment risk news.
7. Different types of sources reliably provide reporters with different types of content. Coverage depends on skillful sources versus inept ones.
Sandman’s rules of environment coverage
Four types of biases prevail in the media -
Alarm over reassurance
Extremes over middle
Opinions over data
Outrage over hazard
The main reason behind these biases is the notion of news values.
Journalism needs journalistic criteria
News values of timeliness, human interest
Proactive stories are ignored because of high cost of manpower, time and resources
Reactive stories are easier because of low cost, come from a reliable source, mostly primary definers, press releases are easy to acquire, suit news peg.
Ex: Copenhagen and Bt Brinjal stories have several reasons for coverage
Stories are written for the common man -
Hazards are scientific and technical but outrage is a feeling and hence has human interest
Deadline oriented reporting limits the amount of research . Therefore basics are included in the first news story and details can follow in follow-ups if need be.
What, when, where and who are covered. How is optional and why is difficult
Dissonance in reporters, such as `technophobia’
Technophobia is not limited to the reporter, it extends to the audience as well -
Technical knowledge reassures the expert and alarms the layman
Stories are written for the non-expert and hence a stress on outrage and not hazard
The Increasing application of the concept of `framing’
Preparation of an interpretative package comprising of: progress, economic prospect, ethical, Pandora’s box, nature, public accountability, globalization.
Alarming content outweighs reassuring content -
Opinionated and extreme outweighs intermediate and mixed
Substantive bias is present
Missing a problem is a journalistic sin as compared to overstating it
In crisis, human interest spills forth.
Most dramatic part is that explicit statements by experts minimizing the risk are considered offensive
Ex: `The level is low, do not worry’ would be considered incredible and alarming in news story and reassuring in a formal content analysis
2 source stories are good, multi source stories are better.
Pairs are made to suit news story style
1 Government, 1 activist
1 industry, 1 citizen
In journalism, there are no `truths’, only conflicting claims
Journalists are more allied with alarming sources rather than reassuring ones.
A `scary’ story is better than a `calming' one by journalistic standards
Has motive- gives detailed information
Mostly media savvy
Maybe a publicity seeker
Afraid of being misquoted
Does not trust the media
Maybe from a position of authority such as government
Quality of story depends on the quality of sources.