Murky waters: Media reporting of marine protected areas in South Australia
This paper discusses about how raising the public’s knowledge and awareness can help in protecting marine environment, and also the role media play in informing the public about marine protection.
According to Compas et al. (2007), research has shown that a well-informed public is more likely to support environmental issues and print media, particularly newspapers, are considered the most credible source of media.
Compas et al., (2007) notes that it is very challenging to engage the public in efforts to protect the marine environment due to poor knowledge of marine environment and little personal experience with marine animals and habitats (Zann, 1995) (Steel et al., 2005). Public’s knowledge about the marine environment corresponds to the public’s support for marine conservation (Steel et al., 2006).
Media and environmental issues
Marine protected area or MPA is recognised globally as a proven means to “preserve coastal and ocean environments” (Agardy, 2000). As the public are poorly informed about the marine environment, how the media portray MPAs could readily shape the public’s understanding and opinions about MPAs (McCallum et al., 1991).
The media act as the ‘gatekeepers’ and decide what information comes to us and also how we should perceive it – they construct and shape our social experience (Burgess and Gold, 1985). What comes to us through the media is determined by its newsworthiness. Environmental issues are not always newsworthy because they are “complex and systemic” and consequently, environmental news usually lack the context that the public needs to empathise with the issue (Beder, 2004) (Burgess and Harrison, 1993).
In this paper, a study is done to examine how media portray marine protection, using the Encounter Marine Park (a Marine protected area or MPA) in South Australia as a case study.
- 65 online newspaper articles dated January 1999 and March 2006 were collected to examine their content.
- 57 or 88% were found to have written specifically about MPA in South Australia. The rest wrote on different topics but carried mentions of MPAs in the articles.
- Little information about marine environments and why their protection is necessary.
- Little information about MPA, its founding, the agencies involved etc.
- Articles gave the impression that the MPA process was flawed due to inadequate public consultation.
- 77% of the articles contain views of individuals or organisations – mostly from select local groups and their representatives.
- Public’s views and marine experts’ opinions were not reported in the articles examined.
The above findings suggest that the media did not play their role well in educating the public regarding MPA. Important information (i.e. local marine experts’ opinions, context of MPA, general public’s opinions) that is necessary for the public to make informed opinions about the MPA process, was left out.
I do agree that the media has the power to shape public’s opinions about a certain issue. Newspapers may have been the most credible source of information, but organisations do not have to feel aggrieved that the media are not helping much to promote their cause. There are many other modes of communication that one can use to raise awareness about an issue and influence support. And they don’t have to be costly like social media (generally low CPM).
I would like to pose a question that is relevant to the communication strategy project that we are working on.
Do you agree that ‘understanding’ (the emphasis in this paper) can increase the recognition of the need to mitigate issues like climate change, animal abuse, violence against women?
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– janisuhoshi (20906271)