Fighting the raging beasts’ blaze: Examining the effect of message framing in wildfire news reports on risk perception

Authors: Megan Fleming*, Queen's University, Elijah Bisung, Queen's University
Topics: Communication, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Canada
Keywords: wildfires, risk perception, communication, message framing, British Columbia
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

More frequent and intense fires are expected in Canada’s northwestern boreal region and other parts of the world, with severe health, environmental and economic consequences. I draw on environmental stress and conceptual metaphor literature to examine wildfire framings in local media reports in British Columbia, Canada. The aim was to assess how different framings affect residents’ perceptions of wildfire severity, concerns of the wildfires’ consequences, and intended health-protective behaviours. News reports (n = 161) between April 2017 and October 2019 from local news sources were analyzed using ATLAS.ti. Preliminary results highlight the scarcity of wildfire-related health risk notices, with few mentions of respiratory health concerns (n[instances] = 29, n[articles] = 14) or pre-existing health condition concerns (n[instances] = 10, n[articles] = 8). Metaphors were integrated into these narratives, prominently exhibiting agentic, aggressive connotations; journalists often conceive the wildfires with words typically describing a “monster,” such as “forcing,” “threatening,” or “breaking out.” These metaphor framings were often employed regardless of the wildfire’s actual level of threat to the environment and residents’ health. Local public health units, media organizations and emergency services can use these findings to design efficient wildfire communication strategies.

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