This study of newspaper coverage of Chernobyl aims to show how journalists use the mechanics of fact and commentary to construct their version of events in the context of major technological crisis.

With no consensus as to the exact nature of the disaster and its consequences, and a public demanding information, the media reacted with every kind of commentary, hypothesis, and conjecture at their disposal (glose médiatique). Paradoxically this was a necessary stage in the attempt to get closer to the reality of what had actually happened. This was largely a result of the lack of crisis management on the part of the Soviet Government and the almost total impossibility of obtaining direct and verifiable information.

In such times of need, various categories of second-hand information and commentary serve as the basis for a reconstruction of reality as means of getting closer to "the heart of the matter". In the case of Chernobyl, the four categories are dominant : Soviet and Western governments, the press (agencies, newspapers..,), experts, followed by references to previous nutrients and existing nuclear power plants.

This study is hased in the calculation of the number of occurences of these categories. Preliminary results will be presented for four daily newspapers: The Guardian, Le Monde, Le Soir & El Pais. Then the study will be extended to The Times, Le Figaro, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, La República, La Stampa & La Vanguardia.

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Journalistic reconstruction of reality:A comparative study of the coverage of the Chernobyl disaster by eleven European daily newspapers

Pierre Fayard   LABCIS - University of Poitiers, France

This study of newspaper coverage of Chernobyl aims to show how journalists use the mechanics of fact and commentary to construct their version of events in the context of major technological crisis.

With no consensus as to the exact nature of the disaster and its consequences, and a public demanding information, the media reacted with every kind of commentary, hypothesis, and conjecture at their disposal (glose médiatique). Paradoxically this was a necessary stage in the attempt to get closer to the reality of what had actually happened. This was largely a result of the lack of crisis management on the part of the Soviet Government and the almost total impossibility of obtaining direct and verifiable information.

In such times of need, various categories of second-hand information and commentary serve as the basis for a reconstruction of reality as means of getting closer to "the heart of the matter". In the case of Chernobyl, the four categories are dominant : Soviet and Western governments, the press (agencies, newspapers..,), experts, followed by references to previous nutrients and existing nuclear power plants.

This study is hased in the calculation of the number of occurences of these categories. Preliminary results will be presented for four daily newspapers: The Guardian, Le Monde, Le Soir & El Pais. Then the study will be extended to The Times, Le Figaro, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, La República, La Stampa & La Vanguardia.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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