Transmission of ideas and information through media avenues like television and the press are the predominant means by which much of contemporary culture and the developed world obtain vital information. The media has an enormous impact on the public’s conceptualization of ideals: societal perceptions are shaped by the information made available to us through the different venues of media. Examining how the transmittal of information regarding environmental risk is disseminated by the media and accepted by society exposes an evident quandary.
The media repeatedly broadcasts data that instead of informing people with beneficial news adversely invokes situations of tumult and unnecessary fear. Ramifications of the fictitious diffusion of information about environmental risks, or non-risks, to society include more than just the proliferation of misinformation. Circulation of wrongful environmental risk data has detrimental effects on businesses, industry and economy. Misinforming people about environmental risk undermines policies and government actions that are based on media hype or contentious scientific information. Abating the problematic and detrimental tendency of media misconstruing information about environmental risks will require a multifaceted collaboration between the media, the public, government and the scientific community.
A problem complicating environmental policy and risk reporting is largely attributable to media players, politicians and scientists overstepping their boundaries into realms they are not qualified to operate in. Scientists must avoid getting involved in the environmental policy debate. Conversely, politicians must not attempt to reason on scientifically sensitive issues as if they are scientists.
Risk is defined as the severity of the consequences of an accident or a hazard like a toxin multiplied by the probability of its occurrence. Risks will exist indefinitely however we attempt to reduce risk by either reducing the probability or severity of the hazard. (Bahr, 1997) People must learn, including the media, to “balance the risks and thus steer a safe course through the potential minefield known as life”. The process by which people perceive risk is dependent on what knowledge they attain and what information is made available. (Neely, 1994)
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