Media and risk : a phase model elucidating media attention to nuclear energy risk
In today’s risk-filled society, it is vital to recognize not only the risks that we face every day, but also that knowledge of such risks spreads, above all, via mass media. Risk-related information contributes to our knowledge and affects how we perceive risks and what risk decisions we ultimately make. Among the most memorable disasters of risks taken in recent memory, the nuclear energy accident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 changed how the public, policymakers, and media outlets perceive and deliberate the risk of nuclear energy. In response, the research question of this study interrogates how media portrayed the risk of nuclear energy and how coverage of the technology changed after the accident at Fukushima. The study concentrates on how two Swiss newspapers covered nuclear energy between 2010 and early 2015. By using a broad definition of risk and an innovative empirical operationalization of the concept, the study identifies different risk attention phases in media coverage, each characterized by different focus on risk dimensions. Interestingly, results show that those media paid considerable attention to political decisions about the use of nuclear energy, and surprisingly, the detrimental dimension of risk was in focus even before the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan. Although the benefits of nuclear technology became obscured after Fukushima, they recuperated interest as early as a year later. Such results raise a question regarding risk decisions and the use of nuclear energy—namely, when do societies decide upon risks, and how do media portray the risk at that moment in time?