Voices, Science, and Risks: A Content Analysis of Australian Online Media Reports of Human-Induced Climate-Change Impacts on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractResearch


This paper is a content analysis of uncertainty and risk frames used in Australian online news reports of the 2016 Great Barrier Reef (GBR) mass coral-bleaching event, which was caused by human-induced global warming or climate change. Due to the event, 29% of the shallow-water coral died. One way to protect the GBR and all reefs around the world against climate change including further coral bleaching and death is through the media, which is an important source of public information. However, since news about climate change is often politically framed, scientists cannot just simply explain what has happened on the reef to get people to act. They therefore need other frames to develop stronger motivation. One frame that appears to be more effective is explicit risk, which explains in numeric terms what is at stake if something is lost. Explicit risk is the language of insurance. Some researchers believe that this frame is the most honest for explaining climate change and its effects. This paper, therefore, analysed online reports of the coral bleaching event in four Australian online news outlets (the Australian, the Courier Mail, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), and the ABC) to see how frequently the following frames were used: scientific certainty/uncertainty, scepticism including greater certainty that the reef will recover, implicit risk/disaster, explicit risk, and opportunity. Of these frames, both scientific certainty/uncertainty and scepticism were dominant in 26% of articles, implicit risk/disaster was dominant in 24%, opportunity was dominant in 21%, and explicit risk was dominant in only 3%. When comparing the four outlets, sceptical uncertainty was most dominant in the Australian (75%) and the Courier Mail (54%), while scientific certainty/uncertainty was most dominant in the SMH (40%) and the ABC (30%). Given that media reporting of climate change in Australia is polarised, it is recommended that the ABC, SMH and other outlets use the explicit-risk frame at the start of articles instead of the other risk and uncertainty frames to more frequently report on how the reef is being affected by climate change. These outlets could also use the opportunity frame to provide examples of actions that people are taking to protect the reef. More training of scientists and journalists in when and how to express explicit risk as well as more research on climate-change framing is required.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2018
Event68th Annual International Communication Association Conference: Voices - Prague Hilton, Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 24 May 201828 May 2018
Conference number: 68th


Conference68th Annual International Communication Association Conference
Abbreviated titleICA
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic


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