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.

My views

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?

Compas, E, Clarke B, Cutler C and Daish,K. (2007). Murky waters: Media reporting of marine protected areas in South Australia. Marine Policy 31: 691–697.

Zann L. (1995). Our sea, our future: major findings of the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia. Canberra: Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories.

Steel BS, Smith C, Opsommer L, Curiel S, Warner-Steel R. (2005). Public ocean literacy in the United States. Ocean and Coastal Management; 48:97–114.

Steel B, Lovrich N, Lach D, Fomenki V. (2006). Correlates and consequences of public knowledge concerning ocean fisheries management. Coastal Management; 33(1):37–51.

Agardy T. (2000). Information needs for marine protected areas. Scientific and Societal Bulletin of Marine Science; 66(3):875–88.

Beder S. (2004). Moulding and manipulating the news. In: White R, editor. Controversies in environmental sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 204–20.

McCallum DB, Hammond SL, Covello VT. (1991). Communicating about environmental risks: how the public uses and perceives information sources. Health Education Quarterly; 18(3):349–61.

Burgess J and Gold J. (1985). Introduction: place, the media and popular culture. In: Burgess J, Gold J, editors. Geography, the media and popular culture. Sydney: Croom Helm. p. 1–33.

Burgess J. and Harrison CM. (1993). The circulation of claims in the cultural politics of environmental change. In: Hansen A, editor. The mass media and environmental issues. Leicester: Leicester University Press. p. 198–221.

– janisuhoshi (20906271)


4 comments so far

  1. janesxm on

    I agree that understanding can increase the recognition of the need to mitigate issues like climate change, animal abuse, violence against women, etc. Indeed, the media plays a vital role in educating the public about pressing issues. However, the little emphasis that the media place on such issues causes little knowledge to be passed on to the public. This could be partly due to the high media cost involved. As such, many organisations take to social media to communicate the severity of such issues to the public.

    However, I feel that understanding the issue is only a start. The public would need to agree that a change has to be made, and to act to make that change happen. Acting on the issue might cause a change in our daily lives, and many are not willing to do so, and adapt to the changes.

    Using the issue of adopting pets for example, people might have misconceptions about pet adoptions. Thus, it is important to provide clarifications and allow the public to better understand pet adoptions. However, this does not mean that people will start adopting pets. The clarifications will only aid pet lovers in the process of adopting a pet. The act of successfully adopting a pet will happen when the pet lovers find a pet that is suitable for them.

  2. agneslpy on

    I agree with the article that a more well-informed public would increase the probability of people supporting the particular issue like protecting marine life. If the public only relies on the mainstream media for news, it would no doubt be the major factor in determining the public views and opinions. However with the internet now, there are many sources where people obtain their information rather than relying on ‘newsworthy’ articles (from mainstream media) as mentioned.

    ‘Understanding’ the issue will definitely increase the public’s recognition of issues like climate change, animal abuse etc. But as said above, the amount of ‘understanding’ that they receive may be selective (how mainstream media portrays it). While understanding the topic is one issue, going out to support or make a change to the topic in mind e.g climate change is another issue. The issue of climate change would by now be known by the majority of the public. But not many people make the effort to make the change, e.g. use less plastic bags, driving biodiesel cars, recycling, etc. So I think that understanding the issue is one thing while the notion of going out to support it is another.

  3. orube90 on

    I feel that ‘understanding’ (the emphasis in the paper) helps to increase the recognition of the need to mitigate issues like climate change and animal abuse etc. However, understanding the issue would not be any good if there were no actions taken to help with the pressing issue. Even though some people might ‘understand’ the issue, they would not do anything more as they feel that they have other priorities to spend time and effort on instead.

    I feel that ‘Actions speak louder than words’

    One must try to adopt a selfless attitude to make the world a better place for the animals and human alike. ‘Understanding’ the situation is only the first step in mitigating issues, more effort and dedication is needed to truly tackle the pressing issues.

    Looking at animal abuse, one can help by joining the cause, volunteering at animal shelter, taking care of the strays on the street and so on, the possibilities are endless. Even if one can’t help the animals physically, one can advocate on the welfare of animals through social media platforms like Facebook.

    No effort is too small.

  4. janisuhoshi on

    janesxm: “…understanding the issue is only a start. The public would need to agree that a change has to be made, and to act to make that change happen.”

    agneslpy: “…understanding the issue is one thing while the notion of going out to support it is another.”

    orube90: “I feel that ‘Actions speak louder than words’”

    Thanks janesxm, agneslpy and orube90 for the comments. I noticed that all of you mentioned a point that is worth pondering on. I agree that actions speak louder than words. What is understanding when it does not inspire actions? Every communication should seek to actualise the goal for communicating.

    While I agree that understanding is one way to garner support for a cause, it serves no purpose to just generate awareness (and understanding) and no concrete actions on the part of the audience.

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