Safety first: Reporting food scares

Jun 12, 2013

Journalists believe their primary role in food scares is to inform the public of potential health risks, according to Flinders research.

Public Health Research Fellow Dr Annabelle Wilson (pictured) interviewed 19 Australian journalists working in print, broadcasting and online about their response to and their role in trust.

The research questionnaire employed a hypothetical food scare in which isolate imported from Asia was shown to be contaminated and to have potential to cause life-threatening .

"We asked them what they perceived their role in reporting information during a food scare to be; what they perceive their responsibility to be in reporting information to the public; and if they have a role in shaping whether the public trusts a particular food or food information," Dr Wilson said.

Responses from the participants were similar and consistent, Dr Wilson said, with the majority of asserting that their main role in a food scare is to inform the public.

"Initially, the journalists' concern wasn't so much about laying blame, but more in playing a public service role; journalists also thought that it was their duty to be questioning and cynical on behalf of the public."

Journalists stated their intention would be to strive to be fair and balanced, and accurate and honest in their reporting.

Dr Wilson said there was some acknowledgment that competition to break the story might mitigate against fair and balanced reporting and increase the chance of error, but that reporting the facts quickly would be the main priority because of the risks and "the need to let people know".

Dr Wilson said that secondary issues relating to the scare were identified as how and why the situation occurred, as well as issues around importation and the level of trust in Australia's and its regulation.

"Most journalists felt that it wasn't the prime responsibility of the media to build trust in food," she said.

"They see the media's role as to report the facts – if in the process of the reporting, trust is destroyed, it's not the duty of the media to rebuild that trust."

Journalists did believe, however, that the media did play a role in restoring trust through positive stories subsequent to the event.

"Questioning by the media provides the information on which the public can base an informed decision about whether to place their trust or not."

Explore further: Researchers reveal relationships between rare languages in the Colombian Amazon

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ethics still a priority for journalists

Jul 31, 2012

An Australian-first survey of media professionals shows that despite newspapers moving online, the majority of journalists are still committed to quality, ethical journalism.

Bad news for women in media

Oct 09, 2012

Gender bias and sexual harassment against female journalists are still systemic problems in Australian newsrooms, according to new research.

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

More news stories

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

Researchers see hospitalization records as additional tool

Comparing hospitalization records with data reported to local boards of health presents a more accurate way to monitor how well communities track disease outbreaks, according to a paper published April 16 in the journal PLOS ON ...

Ebola virus in Africa outbreak is a new strain

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain—evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.