“Of Gods and Men”: Selected Print Media Coverage of Natural Disasters and Industrial Failures in Three Westminster Countries

Kevin F. Quigley 1  and John Quigley 2
  • 1 School of Public Administration, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada
  • 2 Department of Management Science, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, G1 1QE, UK
Kevin F. Quigley and John Quigley

Abstract

This article examines selected print media coverage of a domestic natural disaster and domestic industrial failure in each of three Westminster countries: Australia, Canada, and the UK. It studies this coverage from several perspectives: the volume of coverage; the rate at which the articles were published; the tone of the headlines; and a content analysis of the perceived performance of key public and private institutions during and following the events. Its initial findings reveal that the natural disasters received more coverage than the industrial failures in each of the newspapers considered. There was also no significant difference in the publication rate across event type or newspaper. In each case, government was assessed at least as frequently and negatively as non-government actors, particularly during and following industrial failures. The manner in which government and non-government actors were assessed following these events suggests that, contrary to government claims that owners and operators of critical infrastructure (CI) are responsible for its successful operation, government in fact is “in the frame” as frequently as the industry owners and operators are. In addition, the negative assessments of governments following industrial failures in particular may prompt over-reaction by policy makers to industrial failures and under-reaction to natural disasters. This inconsistency is indeed ironic because the latter occur more often and cost more, both financially and socially. We reviewed 340 newspaper articles from three different newspapers: The Australian’s coverage of the Canberra bushfires and the Waterfall train accident, The Globe and Mail’s (Canada) coverage of Hurricane Juan and the de la Concorde overpass collapse, and The Daily Telegraph’s (UK) coverage of the 2007 floods and the Potters Bar train wreck. Our sample size is small; our ability to compare across newspapers and countries limited. Further research is warranted.

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