Mixed effects of mass media reports on the social amplification of risk: frequencies and frames of the BSE reports in newspaper media in the UK

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The social amplification of risk framework explains why risks provoke
public concerns, and presumes that risk signals and societal responses
are determinants of the social process by which risks can be amplified
or attenuated. This process considers mass media as central to disseminating information, and a conventional view suggests that media hype
risks and increase public fear. This study aimed to examine how the discovery of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), the newspaper
reports regarding its potential transmission to humans, and the following social events were framed in the UK, and how media functioned in
the process of the social amplification of BSE risks. Newspaper articles
were collected from archives of the five UK national dailies for the
period 1985–2008, and were coded according to the frames, geographic
focus, policy discussion and their slant, and the argument bases for policy discussions. The changes in frequency and frames over time were
examined. The number of published articles increased, as BSE-related
events occurred. Agriculture and trade remained dominant themes, followed by commerce and incident details. Factual reports, including neutral policy discussions, dominated the articles. When advocacy was
evident, appeals for weaker policy measures appeared most frequently,
favoring balance between objectives and addressing the rational acceptance of health risks. Newspaper media contributed to the social amplification of BSE risks, responding to societal events by producing
numerous alarming articles that did not originate from any single health
or industry viewpoint but dominated the press with factual reports.
Policy advocacy was suppressed by arguments for the rational acceptance of risks. Such media behaviors demonstrated ambivalence, and
may have amplified the risks less than expected, without isolating
health risks, increasing public fear, or advocating stronger government policies
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Early online date17 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 May 2021

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