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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Scientific Innovations between Hope and Fear
The Media Image of Medical Implants

Elena Link  

Mass media present complex scientific innovations from multiple perspectives. But the multitude of perspectives does not necessarily lead to a well-balanced reporting. Moreover it can leave lay-audiences with biased views of associated uses and risks, because firstly journalists' news selection is driven by factors like scandals and secondly the journalistic representation of a selected topic can be biased on the basis of framing (Entman, 1993) or the citation of opportune witnesses (Hagen, 1992). The present study explored the (multitude of) frames, their temporal evolution and influential agents in the media coverage for the scientific innovation case of implants. We conducted a content analysis of 15 German newspapers (2008 to 2013) with 256 articles and 5286 statements. A cluster analysis identified the relevant frames of the media coverage. The first frame, Progress Reports (n=143), is a benefit-oriented and forward-looking reporting of new types of implants with an above-average representation of scientists. The second cluster focused on risks especially of hip and breast implants without mentioning beneficial aspects. It is characterized as Scandal Reports (n=113). In comparison of the two reporting patterns the media source and their associated editorial line is an important influence for the coverage. Additionally, the journalists use different witnesses to represent their construction of the reality. Scientists are often cited as agents of progress, while scandal reports give agents of economy and politics the chance to speak. Data show a general rise of the reporting over time as well as an event-driven increase of addressing of the implant topic. Overall, the analysis showed that the media image of implants is likely to leave the general audience with a mixture of hopes for benefits and fear of substantial risk. Science communicators and medical personnel should take this set of (lay) audiences' expectations into account and adapt their communication strategies.

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

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