The weakest link in existing studies: media–government risk interactions

Howarth, Anita (2013) The weakest link in existing studies: media–government risk interactions. Journal of Risk Research, 16(1), pp. 1-18. ISSN (print) 1366-9877


This article argues that media-government interactions are critical to the trajectory of risk debates. These interactions are dynamic, entailing multi-faceted shifts in responses and counter-responses –positions, arguments/discourses/representations and actions – during the course of a scare. An exploration of such dynamics in the political-media complex is likely to tell us much about how their shifting relationship, roles and engagements influence the trajectory of different risk debates. With this in mind, this article undertakes a systematic, critical evaluation of the extent to which six existing risk frameworks are capable of capturing these interactional dynamics. The six analysed were moral panic, social amplification of risk, advocacy coalition framework, discourse coalition framework and social representation/cultivation analysis. What this evaluation found was a media/policy centrism that undermines a study of both; problematic conceptualizations of communication and hence interactions; and relatively rigid research designs that facilitate a tracing of the contours of a debate but not the interactions within it. The article concludes that there is an urgent need for new frameworks better equipped to capture the interactional dynamics of risk in the political-media complex and it suggests some criteria that might inform such a development.

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