Does Newsworthiness Influence Construction of Food Risk? Views of Media Actors

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Annabelle WILSON , Discipline of Public Health, Flinders University, Australia
Julie HENDERSON , School of Nursing and Midwifery, Flinders University, Australia
Michael CALNAN , School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Martin CARAHER , City University, United Kingdom
John COVENEY , Discipline of Public Health, Flinders University, Australia
Samantha MEYER , University of Waterloo, Canada
Paul WARD , Flinders University, Australia
In modern society, many risks are invisible and are brought to the attention of the public through the mass media. This is particularly relevant for food, where the widening gap between producers and consumers in the developed world has increased the need for consumer trust. Therefore the media play a crucial role in how risk is constructed and presented to the public. It is pertinent to gain an understanding of the construction of food risk as this is likely to influence consumer trust in food. This paper presents empirical data from research investigating how the media construct food risk and ultimately affect consumer trust across three countries: Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand (NZ). Interviews were undertaken with media actors from each country including 20 from Australia, 10 from the UK and three from NZ. First, our findings identify that newsworthiness is important when constructing a story about food risk. This followed a hierarchy, with risks affecting children and babies perceived as the most newsworthy. Second, risk reporting follows a cycle with precedence given to the dissemination of any information about the risk, regardless of the severity of the risk to public health and safety. This is followed by tempering of the risk, coverage of new angles to keep the story going and seeking to uncover the ‘truth’ such as the source of contamination that led to the food incident. Third, working conditions of media actors, including limited time, limited space and short deadlines were found to diminish the ability to report a balanced story, hence adding to newsworthiness and augmenting construction of risk. Our findings indicate that the construction of food risk by the media is influenced by newsworthiness and this is likely to impact the ways in which consumers regard the food risk presented.