|An average individual in today’s society is exposed to a large
amount of risk related information, definitely larger than one can easily
absorb. Risk has become an important element in our daily life as we
live, according to Beck, in “a risk society”. In risk societies risk related
information is a prevalent type of information distributed or produced
by mass media and is frequently a subject of journalism.
|In a risk society, risk communication is one of the most important
aspects of risk management. Risk communication in democratic
societies is an interactive exchange of information and opinions
concerning risks and risk management among the risk assessors, risk
managers, consumers and other interested parties, usually referred
to as stakeholders, by different means of mass communication. The
right-to-know and participate principle is nowadays enshrined in
local, national, regional and international, and trans-national laws
and regulations. But the precise role of mass media and journalism in
nowadays “risk society” still remains to be determined and should be
an active subject of research by the communication scholars.
|Namely, scholars of mass communication and journalism have the
opportunity to draw upon theoretical and empirical strands to address
not only the role of mass communication and journalism in general
education and in the distribution of information related to risks, which
are both highly investigated topics, but also in understanding and
clarifying many of the central challenges of our rapidly changing world,
influencing the role of mass media and journalism, a few of which we
|• One-way risk communication is increasingly replaced by
|• The new mass media play an important role in dissemination
of risk related information. However, there are high stakes
involved in struggles over ownerships of these media.
|• The globalization of our living environment eliminates borders
for the risk events and risk perceptions.
|• Several social changes and challenges have recently brought
about an increase in real or perceived societal and political risks
and have influenced the use of mass media recently, such as the
Arab Spring, the Fukushima nuclear accident and the global
|• The credibility and trustworthiness of new sources of risk related
information, as well censorship or overload of information in
the new media are becoming more crucial.
|• There is a tendency of the growing failure of risk managers and
communicators to keep up with the technological changes in
information systems used for risk communication.
|On the other hand, it has been known for a long time that
mass media are the most prominent information channel related
to risk communication for the general public. They are used by
different stakeholders and play the role of a “watchdog” of a society.
However, they also have to fulfill the economic aspects of publishing
or broadcasting, with “‘If it bleeds, it leads’” being a well-known
phenomenon in journalism. Moreover, mass media and journalism play a progressively more important role in contemporary crisis
situations. They help create, shape and terminate a crisis.
|Journalists do not only report about the reality, they also influence
it. Communication scholars point out that journalists have an active role
to play in reporting about an event (crisis). They represent, interpret,
and construct it and the related political and public salience of various
issues is partly driven by the media coverage. Research has shown that
when media increase their attention to a given issue, the political elites
jump on the bandwagon by stating their opinion, asking parliamentary
questions, tabling law proposals, or issuing executive orders.
|In view of the social and technological changes discussed earlier,
the question now becomes whether these findings from a earlier period
of mass media and journalism are still relevant today, or whether
perhaps a redefinition of the role of mass media and journalism in risk
communication is due.
|If the latter is the case, we need to adopt the methodology of
mass communication research to the newly raised situation and
link it to research in other related areas. The topics studied by mass
communication field related to risk can be extraordinarily diverse.
They can range from extremely micro accounts of the use of twitter in
natural disasters to extremely macro accounts of global flows of risk
related information and influence. But the diversity of empirical objects
of research can pose methodological problems. However, this should
simply be viewed as another research opportunity in the development
of scientific methods themselves. One promising research tool worth
investigating in this regard may be the so called mixed methods, which
combine qualitative and quantitative approaches.
|In short, our goal should not be to praise existing efforts but
rather to indicate challenges. In order to investigate the changes we
are witnessing, research on mass communication has to seek stronger
connections among its different sub-disciplines and to some extent,
among different lines of investigation. Lack of integration and critical
reflection is a problem related to both the ability of empirical research to
have deep and cumulative scholarly significance, as well as the ability of
the researchers to say why their work really matters. One of the possible
remedies might be the emerging presence of an open access journals,
whose important contributions to information availability can lead
to more coherence in the field and raise research productivity levels
and the level of engagement among researchers in shared intellectual
and practical problems related to mass communication in today’s risk