Speaker : Julian Matthews, University of Leicester
The process of hydraulic fracturing (commonly called ‘fracking’), has become the latest controversy to be reported within the national (UK) news media. As an issue, fracking can be compared to other likeminded and visible environmental concerns such as the building of new roads over designated ‘green field’ (i.e. protected) sites, for example. Similar to past controversies over new road building, the fracking issue involves governmental consent for the process, vocal vested interests from (the fracking) industry alongside the presence of concerns from advocacy groups and from affected local communities. Given this context, the paper asks to what extent does elite reporting reflect different positions on, and discussion of, the process, and the impact, of fracking? To address this question, it introduces findings from an exploratory study into elite press reporting over five years (2010-2015). It charts the prevalent story themes, their openness to discussion and to different news voices in addition to how the issue is constructed, linguistically. The research shows that the newspapers’ coverage reflects an ongoing process of politicization over the fracking issue that is defined according to discourses on ‘economic benefits’ or ‘environmental risks’. Further, it discovers a shift in the coverage through time from the discussion of benefits to the discussion of risks. This raises questions about the importance of the elite media politics of fracking for policy and perhaps those about the likely future of fracking in the UK.