CRJU245 - Security in 21st Century

Week 5 Lecture

Risk Communication and the Media

In many cases the media is the main channel of communication with the wider public. It exerts one of the most impactful influences on how the public perceives a risk. Therefore, it is likely to have the greatest impact on them.


Media can play a significant role in the following:

  1. Raising awareness of the issues within government and civil society,
  2. Engaging civil society in debate,
  3. Interrogating policy and debating alternatives,
  4. Promoting transparency in policy making and implementation,
  5. Building political commitment to include communication policies

However, at present the media do not generally have the capacity to play this role. Few journalists and editors are familiar enough with the issues to report and analyze them effectively, and communication is not seen as a priority for coverage.

Moreover, the media is not comprised of a single organization and does not have a single purpose. The media has different purposes, different audiences, and different concerns. Generally speaking, the media is comprised of national and regional daily, and Sunday newspapers. As well as national and regional television, national and local radio, and national and local media for ethnic communities. News agencies such as Reuters, Press Association, and international media general and specialist publications produce weekly, monthly and quarterly editions.


The media tend to be the gatekeepers for ideas and the conduit for scares. Despite the growing diversity of information sources. It is still true that the power to decide what the public should know rests with a fairly small number of newspaper publishers, editors, and television and radio producers.


Some argue that media coverage has become increasingly negative over the last 20 years, but objective studies show either an improvement or no decline in quality. This increasing negativity may be due to the anticipated increase of health and environmental hazards resulting from new technologies (e.g. genetic modification of food) along with a corresponding push by lobbyist groups to focus on the possible impacts of these technologies. There has also been a feeling, for example within the UK, that the responsible agencies want to keep the public in the dark, or are too quick to provide unsupportable reassurances. This can lead to a lack of trust, decreased credibility and an ‘expect the worst’ public attitude.


As media portrayals can have a significant impact on public attitudes, it makes sense to attempt to include the media as an ally in communication, rather than an audience. This can be done through invitations to the media to assist in conveying warnings and instructions to target audiences, reassuring the public, defusing inaccurate rumors, assisting in the response effort and soliciting assistance from the public as required. However, this may not always be possible, in which case it may be helpful to have an eye on a number of media ‘triggers." See Table 14.1 below.

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Please look at the videos below, as they will give you great information on the role the media plays in communicating security risk to the public.

References and Supplemental Resources

Hillier, D. (2012). Communicating Health Risks to the Public. Gower Publishing.

Lundgren, R. E., & McMakin, A. H. (2013). Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks. John Wiley & Sons

Read Chapter 11 & 12 of the textbook