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Geoscience Communication An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-2019-5
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-2019-5
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 17 Apr 2019

Research article | 17 Apr 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Geoscience Communication (GC).

Seismic Risk: The Biases of Earthquake Media Coverage

Maud H. Devès1,2, Marion Le Texier3, Hugues Pécout4, and Claude Grasland4,5 Maud H. Devès et al.
  • 1Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, CNRS UMR 7154, 75238 Paris CEDEX 5, France – Université de Paris
  • 2Université Paris-Diderot, Centre de Recherche Psychanalyse Médecine et Société, CNRS EA 3522 – Université de Paris
  • 3Université de Rouen Normandie – UMR CNRS 6266 IDEES, 76781 Mont-Saint-Aignan CEDEX, France
  • 4CNRS, FR 2007 Collège international des sciences territoriales – Université de Paris
  • 5Université Paris-Diderot, UMR 8504 Géographie-Cités & FR 2007 CIST, 75006 Paris, France – Université de Paris

Abstract. The capacity of individuals to cope with threatening situations depends directly on their capacity to anticipate what will come next. The media should play a key role in that respect, but an extensive analysis of earthquake media coverage by the international press reveals systematic biases. Exploring a corpus of 320 888 news articles published by 32 worldwide newspapers in 2015 in English, Spanish or French, we found that the press covers a very small number of events: 71 % of the news was dedicated to only 3 earthquakes (among the 1559 of magnitude 5+). A combination of frequency and content analysis reveals a typical framing of the earthquake news. Except for the Nepal quake, the duration of the coverage is usually very short. The news thus tends to focus on short-term issues: the event magnitude, tsunami alerts, human losses, material damage, and rescue operations. Longer-term issues linked to the recovery, restoration, reconstruction, mitigation and prevention are barely addressed. Preventive safety measures are almost never mentioned. The news on impacts show a peculiar appetency for death counts, material damage estimates and sensationalism. News on the response tends to emphasize the role played by the international community in helping the poor and vulnerable. The scientific content of the coverage is often restricted to mentions of the magnitude, with the concept of the seismic intensity being largely ignored. The notion of the seismic crisis also seems unclear, with aftershocks sometimes being treated as isolated events. Secondary hazards are barely mentioned, except in the case of tsunami alerts. Together, these biases contribute to fatalistic judgments that damage cannot be prevented. If scientific messages are to be communicated, they should be broadcast a few hours after an event. Why not taking that opportunity to familiarize people with the real timeline of seismic disasters?

Maud H. Devès et al.
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Maud H. Devès et al.
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Short summary
Exploring a corpus of 320 888 news articles published by 32 worldwide newspapers in 2015 in English, Spanish or French, we show that: 1) the press covers a very small number of events, 2) the duration of coverage is very short, which does not allow a proper coverage of long-term issues, 3) there is a typical framing of the news about earthquakes that introduces major biases in representation, impeding the proper appropriation of the seismic risk by the public.
Exploring a corpus of 320 888 news articles published by 32 worldwide newspapers in 2015 in...
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