Mass media plays a quite important role in the social construction of reality. This is a well known affirmation. That is why to analyze mass media coverage clears up our understanding of the society which we live. The influenza A/N1H1 pandemic declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009 is both a good example of this situation and an interesting way to search in depth the social construction of reality by the media. This is also even more significant because the influenza A/N1H1 crisis combined local and global health, economic and social risks. We assume the characteristics that allow to understand this pandemic as a risk can be situated within the conceptual framework developed by sociologists like Beck (1996, 2002, 2008) Giddens (1990, 1996) and Luhmann (1996) that, with different approaches and perspectives, have explained the dynamics of risk societies. The link between the modalities of risk in modern societies and mass media coverage is also a remarkable aspect, since media discourse is deeply connected with the social perceptions of risk. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the media coverage of influenza A/N1H1 pandemic made by three Argentine newspaper of reference in the construction of the social and political agenda. The period explored goes from April 25, when the news first appeared, to July 31, 2009, when the pandemic reached the highest level of dissemination in Argentina and also coincided with the maximum level of exposition in the mass media. The study of this particular health emergency caused by the influenza A/N1H1 pandemic provide us an empirical and analytical updated about some traditional issues of media coverage of health risk communication under epistemic and social uncertainty. The methodology is based on the social discourses theory proposed by Verón (1998, 2004). Through this perspective, we study the discursive operations which define the “way of saying” of each newspaper on risk. The analysis detected specific discursive operations which delineate particular features of the conceptualization on the risk magnitude constructed and communicated by the media. “Uncertainty”, a key concept in the social theories of risk, risk communication and the public understanding of science field, was also detected as an essential component within the corpus reviewed. In fact, it is relevant as a media discourse “productive condition”. Taking this into account, we can say that all the newspapers examined show a high degree of ambivalence to establish the magnitude of risk. We explored how the intensity of risk, as a measure of uncertainty, is expressed into particular “discursive traces”. We identified keywords and linguistic operations that refer to two semantic axes built up from different binomial to define risk. The first one refers to influenza A/H1N1 as a health threat for individual and different social levels (economic, political and social). The main binomials of this axe are “risk/safety”, “threat/ safety”,“unknown/known”. The second one reflects the emotional; that is to say, the risk perception as a mood. The binomials included within this axe are “concern/unconcerned”, “fear/fearlessness”, “madness/common sense”,“pessimism/optimism”. It should be noticed that each binomial have degree in valuations, and they are not excluding between them.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Risk communication, media discourse, influenza A/H1N1, Argentina

Dolores Chiappe   Centro de Estudios sobre Ciencia, Desarrollo y Educación Superior (REDES)

Carmelo Polino   Centro de Estudios sobre Ciencia, Desarrollo y Educación Superior (REDES)

Mass media plays a quite important role in the social construction of reality. This is a well known affirmation. That is why to analyze mass media coverage clears up our understanding of the society which we live. The influenza A/N1H1 pandemic declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009 is both a good example of this situation and an interesting way to search in depth the social construction of reality by the media. This is also even more significant because the influenza A/N1H1 crisis combined local and global health, economic and social risks. We assume the characteristics that allow to understand this pandemic as a risk can be situated within the conceptual framework developed by sociologists like Beck (1996, 2002, 2008) Giddens (1990, 1996) and Luhmann (1996) that, with different approaches and perspectives, have explained the dynamics of risk societies. The link between the modalities of risk in modern societies and mass media coverage is also a remarkable aspect, since media discourse is deeply connected with the social perceptions of risk. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the media coverage of influenza A/N1H1 pandemic made by three Argentine newspaper of reference in the construction of the social and political agenda. The period explored goes from April 25, when the news first appeared, to July 31, 2009, when the pandemic reached the highest level of dissemination in Argentina and also coincided with the maximum level of exposition in the mass media. The study of this particular health emergency caused by the influenza A/N1H1 pandemic provide us an empirical and analytical updated about some traditional issues of media coverage of health risk communication under epistemic and social uncertainty. The methodology is based on the social discourses theory proposed by Verón (1998, 2004). Through this perspective, we study the discursive operations which define the “way of saying” of each newspaper on risk. The analysis detected specific discursive operations which delineate particular features of the conceptualization on the risk magnitude constructed and communicated by the media. “Uncertainty”, a key concept in the social theories of risk, risk communication and the public understanding of science field, was also detected as an essential component within the corpus reviewed. In fact, it is relevant as a media discourse “productive condition”. Taking this into account, we can say that all the newspapers examined show a high degree of ambivalence to establish the magnitude of risk. We explored how the intensity of risk, as a measure of uncertainty, is expressed into particular “discursive traces”. We identified keywords and linguistic operations that refer to two semantic axes built up from different binomial to define risk. The first one refers to influenza A/H1N1 as a health threat for individual and different social levels (economic, political and social). The main binomials of this axe are “risk/safety”, “threat/ safety”,“unknown/known”. The second one reflects the emotional; that is to say, the risk perception as a mood. The binomials included within this axe are “concern/unconcerned”, “fear/fearlessness”, “madness/common sense”,“pessimism/optimism”. It should be noticed that each binomial have degree in valuations, and they are not excluding between them.

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

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