PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Genetically modified organisms in the Chinese media
Frames, actors, risks and social contentions

Hepeng Jia  

Studying media coverage of controversial genetically modified organism (GMOs) has been one of a major research topics in science communication. However, systematic studies of Chinese media reporting of GMOs are few and far between despite the hot debates on the controversial technology and strong public resistance in the country. Based on an online retrievable sample of 12-year Chinese media coverage of GMOs, this study found science and regulatory aspects are the two major types of frames of the media coverage, whose overall tone was negative. While confirming that scientists are a major actor in the media GMO stories and are associated with low-risk information about GMOs, an interesting finding is Chinese social science scholars and public intellectuals, rather than activists and NGOs, have played a major role in shaping the media tone against GMOs. However, the existence of resistance does not ensure a public sphere in the media landscape. When reporting GMO issues, Chinese media have involved very few actors (only about 1.2 per article). Another interesting finding is the media presence of Chinese government officials is not significantly associated with the risk perception level about GMOs delivered by media despite the government's strong supports of the technology, partly due to media framing of officials as problem-solving firemen, intensifying the uncertainty aspect of GMO "safety events." Overall, the most important theoretical contribution of this study is to reveal a social dynamic of public protests against S&T controversies with media content evidence. It implies that public resistance of emerging technologies can go well beyond the traditional sphere of science communication. Suggested PCST theme: Science communication for social inclusion and political engagement.

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