Measles, MMR and the Media

Mail Fail “Scholars have argued that in risk communication a dilemma exists between the media functions of informing the media audience about rational risk behavior, and providing an arena for public deliberation about risk. Optimizing the information function would suggest that media provide clear, unanimous advice without creating confusion by reporting uncertainty and controversy. Optimizing the deliberative function, in contrast, would require media to include different (even contradictory) voices. A similar dilemma exists between incompatible expectations of different fractions of the audience. Part of the audience may trust the media to provide the best available advice. These audience members may be prepared to take the mediated advice at face value, not wanting to be unsettled by controversy and uncertainty. But another part of the audience may prefer to learn about the full spectrum of opinions, including outsider views, and may want to develop their own conclusions on whom to trust and whose advice to follow. Presenting only the mainstream view may motivate members of that part of the audience to seek information in alternative channels – such as blogs or rumors.”


Similar challenges but different responses: Media coverage of measles vaccination in the UK and China. (2012) Public Understanding of Science. doi: 10.1177/0963662512445012
For several decades scholars have studied media reporting on scientific issues that involve controversy. Most studies so far have focused on the western world. This article tries to broaden the perspective by considering China and comparing it to a western country. A content analysis of newspaper coverage of vaccination issues in the UK and China shows, first, that the government-supported ‘mainstream position’ dominates the Chinese coverage while the British media frequently refer to criticism and controversy. Second, scientific expertise in the British coverage is represented by experts from the health and science sector but by experts from health agencies in the Chinese coverage. These results are discussed with respect to implications for risk communication and scientists’ involvement in public communication.


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