James Cook University researchers have found media coverage that shares bad news about the state of the Great Barrier Reef, despite its importance, could be paralysing people into inaction.
Marketing expert Professor Lynne Eagle led the study. Her team analysed nearly 250 online articles about the reef published in 2016.
“None of the articles were very positive and around half were moderately or very negative,” said Professor Eagle.
She said the nature of the coverage could reinforce the idea that mitigation attempts on the Great Barrier Reef will be ineffective and might hamper future policy developments.
“What’s most concerning is that continued repetition of statements that the GBR is dying is likely to reinforce perceptions that any individual action, such as by farmers to mitigate water quality problems, will be useless, making it difficult to set well-informed effective policies for future management of the GBR,” she said.
Professor Eagle said the message that the reef was dying also hampered the chances of creating public concern that could drive policy changes, and this was especially the case when there was dissent within the scientific community as to the state and future of the reef.
She said that there were almost no ‘clear calls to action’ in the coverage of the reef’s problems.
“We know that if a problem is seen as being too big for individual action, support for any action may actually decrease. Blaming the problems with the reef on global climate change may result in a de-emphasis of local mitigation strategies,” she said.
Professor Eagle called for a much more proactive strategy for providing balance and countering misinformation around issues to do with the reef.
She said that, separately, there is also the need for a proactive ‘image recovery’ strategy involving everyone engaged in managing the GBR and its resources.
Professor Lynne Eagle
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