606.2 Media, risk and absence of blame for 'acts of god': Attenuation of the European volcanic ash cloud of 2010

Friday, August 3, 2012: 3:00 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Adam BURGESS , University of Kent, United Kingdom
This paper analyses the character, extent and patterns of media coverage of the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, comparing it with coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Mexican swine flu outbreak, Chinese earthquake and later, 2011 ash cloud. It does so drawing upon sociological themes and concludes that the ash cloud was reported largely in its own terms rather than being amplified as a wider, uncertain threat. As well as the absence of major incident and casualties two interrelated factors are highlighted to explain this result. Emphasising the importance of hazard duration, the unexpected arrival and short lived character of the ash cloud was one important factor that limited the potential for sustained media amplification. More broadly, this was an ‘act of God’ with no clearly responsible agents. This preliminary study suggests that contemporary media risk narrative requires a focus for institutional blame attribution, and without a plausible candidate amplification may not acquire momentum.