DPhil’s first paper wins award at annual American Association of Geographers meeting

The Oxford Water Network is pleased to announce that DPhil student Alex Fischer won first place in the 2019 American Association of Geographers’ (AAG) Stan Brunn Media & Communication Geography Student Award for his recently published article, “Constraining Risk Narratives: A Multidecadal Media Analysis of Drinking Water Insecurity in Bangladesh.” This award, determined through a peer-review process by members of AAG Media and Communication specialty group, is given each year at the AAG annual meeting where faculty and student members are recognized for their work.

This article examines how drinking water security concerns and topics have entered into, and been interpreted by the Bangladeshi mass media across a 35 year inventory of newspaper articles printed by one of the oldest, continually published, and prominent newspapers in Bangladesh. The media’s reporting is further compared to stories identified across 29 newspapers over a 3-year period. The inventory is analysed through a set of proposed risk discourse filters which provide specific ways understand the social-political processes around how the media constructs and manages risk framings and attach meanings to (de)emphasize public concerns.

The research indicates that there is a difference between how the global and local media view the development agenda in Bangladesh. The global media frequently characterizes water insecurity as a constraint on economic and political development. The in-country press, however, shapes a narrative that reinforces national successes linked to domestic politics by framing risks as controllable. Several key observations include cholera topics disappearing from newspaper stories in the late 1980s and arsenic-related stories largely positioned off the front pages of the newspaper despite being described as a national crisis. The findings suggest that the media narratives are framing concerns as controllable in national media, often through technological innovations and public health responses. Research also shows in-country media does not problematize certain risks or frames many issues differently from how they were explained in scientific and technical studies. The implications are these narratives avoid self-confrontation of past decisions when such confrontation might challenge the public narrative of development success. This filter could limit adaptive institutional responses and politicize the allocation of risk management responsibility.

Alex’s paper is the first in a series of his DPhil articles which are supported by the REACH programme and Smith School of Environment and Enterprise that explores drinking water security in Bangladesh and the role of information, infrastructure, and institutions in constructing, constraining, and responding to multiple risks.