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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Power. Power relates to the financial or political status (low or high) of a conflict group characterized in the news story. For example, an article that contended “In fairness, though, it must be conceded that the evil BP committed the unforgivable act of merging with another evil oil company, Amoco Corp. of the United States. Following the merger, the evil conglomerate purchased the United States' Atlantic Richfield Co. and Britain's Burmah Castrol PLC. The sinister mega corporation has also achieved record profits, partially as a result of higher oil and natural-gas prices” (Limbaugh, 2001) attributes BP with a high level of power because it partnered itself with another mega-oil company.

367 Social responsibility. The social responsibility attribution signifies which primary conflict group is assigned the greater role in carrying out the responsibility of the protection and preservation of the environment, which ultimately translates to the “Go Green” movement. For instance, an article that reported “‘In the last two years, we have developed a good off-grid rural market. We are selling solar home lighting systems that come with rooftop panels directly to villagers who have no access to electricity,’ said Anil Patni of Tata BP Solar, an Indian joint venture with the U.S.-based BP Solar. The company works with rural banks to offer small loans of about $300 to villagers to set up solar lighting systems” suggests that BP is meeting up to its corporate social responsibility.

Causal. Causal attribution reveals primary accountability for the conflict. For instance, an article that stated “Five months earlier, in another part of the pipeline also maintained by BP, a spill of 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of oil had been found, making it the largest oil spill ever on the North Slope. It was only when the federal government then demanded that the company conduct a thorough inspection of the rest of the pipeline that the corrosion was discovered” (Nocera, 2006) suggests that BP is the primary party held accountable for the conflict.

Hero. The hero frame conveys that the conflict group was favored more by the general public.

For example, an article that stated “Although BP's drilling programs off Alaska have sparked protests by Greenpeace, the company has scored points with environmentalists by withdrawing from a coalition of oil companies, automakers, electric utilities and others opposed to the Kyoto Treaty on global warming” (Behr, 2000) attributes a hero frame to BP. In this case, BP is taking a stance towards environmental regulation, which is a heroic act for an oil company.

Villain. The villain frame conveys that the conflict group was favored less by the general public.

The villain in the conflict is one that is only concerned about self interests, selfish, and unresponsive to the well-being of society. For example, an article that argued “It may seem unfair that BP is the target of environmental and social-responsibility movements. Shouldn't Greenpeace et al. be going after Exxon Mobil, which still tries to sow public skepticism toward global warming theories and has reportedly worked behind the scenes to remove a prominent scientist from the United Nations climate change panel and still refuses to pay $5 billion in punitive damages ordered by an Alaska court after the 1989 Valdez oil spill?" (Frey, 2002) conveys BP as a victim of an oppressive attack initiated by Greenpeace—the villain in the narrative.

Within each story, conveyed meaning was derived from cited sources, quotes and the authors’ review of the conflict. Narratives were coded for patterns that explained the cause of the conflict, and an exhaustive identification of the primary actors involved was employed. It should be noted that more than 98% of the sample tallied more than a 500-word count. Each news story was read thoroughly until a substantive thick description was drawn.

–  –  –

relevance to other issues that were still regarded critical to the environmental crisis (i.e., policy changes, current and emerging oppositions, and other conflict groups).

How attributions in the conflict shaped the way BP and Greenpeace were framed The news stories conveyed BP as an organization with a great deal of power (75%; n = 30), attributed the primary cause of the environmental crisis (72.5%; n = 29), specifically climate change, and portrayed it as the main villain in the narrative (60%; n = 24). BP also was framed as a company that somewhat lived up to its CSR (50%; n = 20). Overall, the news stories framed the company as a mega-corporation that is the cause of the environmental crisis, not only due to its drilling activities in the Arctic, but also because it is an oil company. For example, one news article opens with a seemingly sarcastic tone as it describes BP's green-friendly logo and

marketing campaign. One author emphasizes his feelings towards BP's CSR message:

“Walking through an airport earlier this week, I happened to spot a BP advertisement.

You know the kind I'm talking about: the letters BP in lower-case type—making them somehow warmer and fuzzier—above a yellow and green sun, and the words ‘beyond petroleum.’ Like most BP ads, indeed, like virtually all BP marketing, it spoke to the

company’s commitment to the environment. And here's what I thought when I saw it:





‘Yeah, right’” (Nocera, 2006).

In a condescending tone, the author questions whether or not the company was living up to its commitment to be socially responsible. Nocera (2006) cites a previous incident that ultimately propelled the federal government to demand BP thorough inspections of its pipelines.

Further evidence of the author’s cynicism and suspicion surfaces with the statement: “‘Still, it was hard not to wonder: this is the environmentally friendly oil company?’” The author compares BP’s record to its competitor, Exxon, and concludes that Exxon has a better history in containing and preventing oil spills. The BP corporate history, from changes in its CSR message to its logo, is provided before the author discusses the fallacies of BP’s message and the failures it must held accountable for.

Although Greenpeace assumed the role of an organization with some power (52.5%; n = 21), it was framed as the hero in the conflict (72.5%; n = 29). Greenpeace was viewed to meet the public’s expectations in carrying out its CSR (87.5%; n = 35). The general public and the news writers perceived protests, boycotts, and public accusations as actions that enriched the organization’s reputation. Greenpeace was attributed the role of the watchdog and the protector of the helpless environment. News stories framed Greenpeace as the underdog that continually challenged evil oil companies, such as BP, in hopes to change their stance: “Earlier this month, BP had Ritzman and two other Greenpeace members arrested for trespassing when they set foot on the island. The three left the Arctic as a condition of their bail, but three others replaced them” (The Associated Press [AP], 2000). In this instance, Greenpeace is seemingly powerless in its protest; however, it remains relentless in its fight as other activists enter the conflict.

Comparison of BP and Greenpeace credibility frames in their pro-social messages Both organizations’ level of credibility was associated to their perceived CSR. For instance, Greenpeace was perceived as highly credible in 72.5% (n = 29) of the news stories and was viewed as having sustained its CSR in 87.5% (n = 35) of the sample. In comparison, BP earned high credibility with 45% (n = 18) of the articles and 50% (n = 20) agreed that the organization maintained its CSR.

369 Greenpeace was framed as the conflict group with greater credibility because it was viewed as one that was more genuine in its pro-social message. The news media accepted Greenpeace as one of the most highly recognized rebellious nongovernmental organizations group whose stance was to challenge oil companies: “Greenpeace developed the hallmark tactic of boarding vessels at sea to advertise its protests. But beyond that, linked by the Internet and a sense of shared objectives, nongovernmental organizations are building networks of influence as the representatives of what they term ‘civil society,’ acting essentially as self-appointed watchdogs on dubious corporate behavior” (Cowell, 2000). Whenever Greenpeace organized a high profile protest, the tone of the news stories seemed supportive of the organization’s actions.

On the other hand, BP was questioned for the accuracy in its reports, motivations for new projects, and true interests in the environment. As a large for-profit organization, BP was associated with other mega-corporations and oil companies that carried a poor crisis history.

Moreover, historical references were made, comparing BP to the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, which lowered BP’s credibility as an organization and the trustworthiness of its CSR message.

Assignment of overall causal attribution BP was assigned with causal attribution more so than Greenpeace. From the sample, 72.5% (n = 29) portrayed BP as the cause of the conflict, whereas only 20% (n = 8) ascribed Greenpeace as the primary cause. The news stories acknowledged the dangers of global warming and climate change, and reasoned that oil companies were to blame for their lack of proactive measures of development in alternative energy. Although BP was credited as one of the more progressive oil companies in terms of solar energy research, it was still blamed for environmental degradation due to its product and its practice. One article stated: “[Greenpeace] and other environmentalists see the industry as greedily violating the pristine Arctic Ocean and setting the stage for a disastrous spill of crude into the gin-clear water” (AP, 2000). The imagery used in this statement enhanced causal attribution towards BP. Another reported: “Greenpeace is protesting BP's Northstar offshore drilling platform, which is under construction off the north coast of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean. Northstar would be the first offshore drilling operation in the Arctic Ocean, and Greenpeace maintains that it would threaten the Arctic ecosystem” (Arctic Barge, 2000). As shown in the citation, BP is framed as a threat to the ecosystem. As the first to operate in an untouched territory, BP is automatically attributed cause for the destruction of the environment. It should also be noted that the presence of Greenpeace activists in any BP drilling operation insinuates suspicious activity on BP’s part. With Greenpeace playing the watchdog role in the news stories, readers immediately assign BP as the guilty party.

Relationship between the frames in the news stories In my analysis, it was clear that there was a strong relationship between the hero frame and credibility frame. Greenpeace was framed as the hero because it was viewed as a highly credible organization with minimal cause attribution assignments. Reporters were forgiving even though Greenpeace was highly involved in the conflict, and was to some extent portrayed as the rebellious party. In many aspects, reporters expected Greenpeace to act as extremists to fulfill its responsibility as a grass-roots organization. As an activist public, Greenpeace was deemed strong if it acted aggressively to enforce regulations.

Another relationship that surfaced from the analysis was causal attribution, low credibility, and the villain frame. BP was conveyed as the villain, prescribed with low credibility or high causal attribution. The news stories relayed low credibility and high causal attribution as 370 characteristics of a villain. When BP was framed with low credibility, the new stories applied cues that defined the organization as a villain. BP was described as evil, selfish, and hurtful. BP was also identified as another oil company whose sole intention was to generate profit at the environment’s expense. Such descriptors cultivated a poor image of BP, which reinforced the notion of the notorious oil company that would doom our future.

A pattern of consistency between the frames was found in the two top elite newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. It is important to take note of this since it points to evidence of media hegemony. News stories published in the same time frame, less than two months apart, were compared. The analysis showed that the newspapers’ frames paralleled one other. Between December 13, 1999 and June 1, 2001, the two most influential newspapers in this analysis, The New York Times and The Washington Post, framed BP as credible half of the time;

extremely powerful; the cause of the conflict; not having lived up to its CSR in early 2000, but then meeting their standards in late 2000 and early 2001; and the villain.

Improving validity As a means to improve validity, I applied the strategies of reflexivity and peer review. I actively searched for potential biases and predispositions during my data analysis and reassessed the conclusions drawn. Each news story was read in random order three times in a one month period, where personal notes and additional comments were reviewed. I also engaged in a discussion of my interpretations with a disinterested peer, which afforded an extensive examination of the study.

Discussion As shown in previous research, framing shapes the way we perceive an event or an individual. By considering the angles to a story, we begin to see a more complete account of the larger picture. In this investigation, framing analysis plays a major role in informing attribution theory. Analyzing data from the approach of framing analysis cultivated meaning as the process identified how frames were attributed defining roles and the way media sculpted their coverage of the conflict and attributed responsibility. Due to the nature of the conflict, it was important to understand conveyed and embedded meaning within the news stories, and perceived blame. By applying a qualitative approach in framing analysis, we not only gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics infused in a news event, we can examine exactly how that event or individual has made an imprint on society by means of the media coverage that surrounded them.



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