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After the Fires: The Role of Journalism in Post-Crisis Recovery

Conference contribution
Authors Deb Anderson
Phil Chubb
Monika Djerf-Pierre
Published in Paper presented at the 6th European Communication Conference, Ecrea, in Prague 9-12 November 2016.
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Language en
Keywords climate change, public accountability, bushfires, journalism, blame-games, crisis communication
Subject categories Media and Communications


This paper draws from an investigation into the dynamics of the media-policy nexus in the aftermath of a major environmental disaster, and in the context of politicised debate over global climate crisis. Through an examination of media coverage, the paper explores how fierce debate over bushfire protection policy was framed and made culturally meaningful, and thereby politically consequential, in the wake of the worst bushfire in modern Australian history. On February 7, 2009, bushfires of extreme ferocity swept through the hinterland near Melbourne in southeast Australia, resulting in the deaths of 173 people. This led to a Royal Commission amid intense debate over the use of prescribed burning to reduce bushfire hazard. Longitudinal analysis of local, state and national mainstream media coverage (2009-16) reveals blame games that targeted environmentalists and the government for allegedly opposing pre-emptive burning, and that near-silenced meaningful discussion of evidence of the impact of anthropogenic climate change on extreme weather events. This investigation into the Australian media’s constitutive and performative role in crisis response raises fundamental questions of claims-making, power and the democratic function of post-crisis journalism in holding power to account.

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