My presentation is based on mythologies and realities about the press and what stands true for media coverage of maritime events and incidents. So, should the media frighten us? On this question, a study on what stands true for media coverage of maritime events and incidents conducted by a program of the University of the Aegean, funded by the European Commission, tried to give answers.

This study examines the press and web media coverage of major maritime accidents during the period from 2008 to 2012 in order to determine whether incidents that have made the headlines in the maritime media have also attracted the attention of the general media and to focus on the ways that journalists have framed these events, elaborating mainly on their attitudes towards the shipping industry. Do the media have a good or not good perception of the shipping world?

Our academic research has allowed us to understand that the first ten days after an accident are very important. How a shipping company handles the situation the first ten days and what media have written about the accident the first ten days will follow the post period after these days. A ten day content analysis of press media is sufficient to determine the dominant framing of a risk event over a longer period.

Vice President Siim Kallas has recently stated in an interview that there is difference between general press and specialized press. ''The maritime transport related press presents a balanced and comprehensive picture. This might be different to the general press which seems to rather focus on larger scale events and incidents, unfortunately often tragic disasters and accidents''

I will use the following six events which led to a negative image for shipping for our analysis:

  • The Astro Saturn arrest (2008)
  • The Maran Centaurus piracy attack (2009)
  • The Aegean Wind Fire (2009)
  • The Costa Concordia (2012)
  • The sinking of a boat carrying illegal immigrants near the island of Kos (2012)
  • The pirate attack on the Jascon off the coast of Nigeria (2012)

We used the five leading newspapers in the world for reference in our study, such as The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Financial Times. Our research was conducted at three different levels. Firstly, we reviewed manually relevant newspaper archives at the British Library News Archive in London. Secondly, we researched the NewsBank services archives hosted in the British Library. Thirdly, we reviewed the web through the Newspapers' web archives. All six events made front page headlines and received considerable publicity in the specialized maritime and local press. The initial research focused on articles that appeared in these media from January 1 2008 through December 31, 2012. Our primary examination followed the 10 day rule.

In total, we found 57 articles. The results of the newspapers' research showed the following

  • None was reported for the Aegean Wind
  • None was reported on the sinking of the boat carrying illegal immigrants in the Aegean Sea
  • None for the Astro Saturn arrest
  • 5 on the Maran Centaurus
  • 50 on the Costa Concordia disaster
  • 2 on the pirates attack in the Nigerian Delta

Of the 57 articles, most were news articles and a limited number were opinions or comments. None were editorial, special reports or special issues. 25 articles were front page in the case of the Costa Concordia. None were front page articles in the case of all the other events or incidents under examination. Different tones were found in the vast majority of the three thematic categories. In respect to the Costa Concordia disaster, articles were mostly negative in tone towards both the company and its crew and neutral towards the shipping industry. As more factual information was gathered newspapers appeared mostly negative towards the shipping company and its crew but not against the shipping industry and its key players. The few Nigerian Piracy attack articles as well as the Maran Centaurus news stories focused on informational text and represented information that had no biased or subjective content and notions, all articles were neutral in respect both to the company and crew as and the shipping industry and cluster as a whole.

The General Press does not follow a specific pattern or strategic and/ or emotional stand towards the maritime industry. We found a limited imbalance in the Media's approach, in favour of catastrophic and disastrous events and accidents in coastal shipping and the ferry industry, but not in the length and the extent as was initially anticipated. The Costa Concordia disaster made headline news but other catastrophic incidents or maritime accidents were either totally ignored by the general press or received limited attention. All framing and reporting of storylines were formulated and published within these 10 day time limits.

The Media's coverage of events was indifferent towards the Press Statements of Companies or Organizations involved. Even when there were no Statements or Press Releases by the specific company involved, the Press reported news according to information announced by public bodies and organizations. Press Releases by Public Bodies or Public Statements by authorities did not always receive the anticipated coverage. The Media does not abide to the storylines developed by Press Offices but, on the contrary, frame news according to unspecified personal or professional judgements and according to their readers' anticipation.

Of course our survey has its limitation as it is the first one and we have already analyzed 12 recent accidents. A more extensive approach to more events and accidents or incidents of significant magnitude within the shipping community may be of importance. Further research and analysis on leading newspapers and websites of other Member States of the EU, in particular those with a considerable maritime tradition, may be of relevance to our findings. Five out of six of our selected events did not directly involve British citizens or territory, or Seas of the UK, or its neighbouring States.

Our general conclusion is that what makes headline news in the Maritime Press does not receive interest of the same magnitude in the General press. Journalists seem rather detached, if not indifferent, towards events that hinder the public image of shipping. The extremely limited reporting by the Press does not show any considerable bias on the part of the authors in their reporting. Coastal and ferry shipping seem to attract more attention. In all events examined, mixed tones and attitudes were mostly recognized. Finally, contrary to general beliefs, sensationalism and alarmism were not reported as widespread in this survey.

The full report will be published by the WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs within the next months where you may read about all methodologies used and cases studies examined.


Above article is an edited version of Mr Ilias Bissias's presentation during 2013 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum

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