Greenpeace v. Shell: media exploitation and the Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF)

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This paper examines the usefulness of the Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) in understanding the media's role in risk communication. Since the SARF was created in 1988, it has been both further developed and critiqued for (amongst other things) its: static conception of communication; lack of attention towards how key actors use the media; lack of systematic attention towards the media as an amplification station; and simplistic assumptions of how the media operate as an amplification station. A complex heavily‐mediated risk communication case study—the battle between Greenpeace and Shell over the deep‐sea disposal of the Brent Spar oil rig (1995)—is used to explore whether the SARF in its current stage of development stands up to these critiques. It is concluded that these critiques are more a consequence of how researchers have used the SARF rather than a fault of the SARF itself. Using the SARF framework with a qualitative case study methodology enabled systematic analysis of the role of relevant media in the social amplification of risk in the Spar issue, exposing how Greenpeace used the media to successfully communicate three risk signals, together with the inadequacies of Shell's reactions; and revealing the layering within amplification stations, including the media itself.

Keywords: Greenpeace; Shell; Social Amplification of Risk Framework; news media; risk signals

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, Wales

Publication date: October 1, 2005

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