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Media views of the Stromboli 2002–2003 eruption and evacuation: a content analysis to understand framing of risk communication during a volcanic crisis

Abstract : The 2002–2003 eruption of Stromboli (Aeolian Islands, Italy) was one of Stromboli’s most important effusive events of the last two centuries and began on 28 December 2002. On 30 December 2002, two days after the beginning of the eruption, a landslide entered the sea and caused a tsunami that struck Stromboli’s coastal areas. The events of 30 December led to a “voluntary evacuation” by Stromboli’s inhabitants. To understand the role of the media in framing risk and the evacuation, we analyzed the content of five newspapers, including two national newspapers (Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica) and three regional newspapers (La Gazzetta del Sud, La Sicilia and Il Giornale di Sicilia), published during the period covering the onset of the eruption, the tsunami and the voluntary evacuation (28 December 2002–18 January 2003). Our aim was to assess the type of hazard information given, how it was delivered, and how this may have helped (or not) with the population’s resilience, especially in regard to viewing a potential need to evacuate in a favorable light. News regarding the eruption covered a total area of 12, 000 cm2 for the national newspapers (~ 6000 cm2/paper) against 41,700 cm2 for the regionals (14,000 cm2/paper); making the regional newspapers the more important sources by quantity. For both newspaper categories, most of this area was occupied by interviews with experts, followed by quotes from residents and tourists, and, finally, those involved in the response (i.e., hazard managers, including civil protection and local government). Out of a total of 9286 words analyzed, the most popular was “tsunami” (426 cases), with the word “volcano” being repeated 315 times (the 6th most popular word); so it would have been difficult for the population not to have known there was a potential risk of tsunami associated with the volcano. In texturally framing the eruptive crisis, negative words, such as “fear”, “terror” and “apocalypse”, were much more frequent than positive words, which were rare and even not present in some newspapers. The reporting focused on the tsunami threat with little link back to the eruption and other hazards, and contrasted with imagery (that took up 41% of the reporting space) which comprised relaxing pictures of a tranquil island surrounded by a calm blue sea. This, coupled with a confused message through selection of quoted expert sources, may have led to an exaggerated and alarmist frame for the eruption and attendant hazards. This was in spite of widespread use of scientific sources, as well as pleas from the population itself, to the journalists and published in the newspapers themselves, to tone the reporting down. The newspaper agenda was, thus, plainly not compatible with effective communication in support of disaster management.
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Laura Calabrò, Andrew Harris, Jean-Claude Thouret. Media views of the Stromboli 2002–2003 eruption and evacuation: a content analysis to understand framing of risk communication during a volcanic crisis. Journal of Applied Volcanology, Springer Verlag, 2020, 9 (1), ⟨10.1186/s13617-020-00094-0⟩. ⟨hal-02569127⟩

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