Geneetiliselt muundatud organismidega seonduvate riskide käsitlemine Eesti ja USA ajakirjanduses (ajalehe The Washington Post näitel) ajavahemikul 1999-2004



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The purpose of this thesis has been to study how the Estonian print media covered and reported on the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMO) from 1999-2004 as well as to examine the construction of public images of GMO related risks. The manner in which the GMO issue is reported in the media has a big impact on the public’s perception and opinion on the topic. However, the debate within Estonian on biotechnology related fields is still in its beginning stages because GMOs and the issues surrounding them are relatively new for Estonia. However, recent developments in the Estonian Genome Project brought the issue of biotechnology and its broader implications into the everyday lives of Estonians and then increased public interest and discussion on the issue. The GMO debate that has emerged in recent years provides an ample opportunity to investigate the public representation of this area of biotechnology. In my thesis, I study the public representation of GMOs in Estonia in relation to another country where there has been extensive debate on the topic as well as compare the Estonian GMO public debate with Estonian Genome Project debate. To properly assess and analyze how the Estonian print media shapes public perception of GMOs, I compared its coverage to the United States’ print media coverage of the same topic. The United States print media was used as a comparison due to its position at the forefront of biotechnology development as well as its active role in the GMO debate. Therefore America’s exposure, participation and diverse opinions on the topic would provide a viable comparison to the Estonian print media. The Estonian print media included in this study were daily newspapers (Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht) weekly newspapers (Äripaev, Eesti Ekspress, and Maaleht) and magazines (Eesti Loodus, Loodus, Maamajandus, and Luup). As the Estonian Fund of Nature’s monthly newspaper, Roheline Värav, is distributed within Maaleht and Eesti Päevaleht, it was also added to the list of examined media. The above media sources represent a broad spectrum of opinions because they write about GMOs from different perspectives as well as for different audiences. Moreover, the chosen newspapers and magazines have established themselves in the Estonian media as respected journalistic publications and regarded as legitimate, credible, and sources of information by the public at large. For the United States, the available resources were extensive and diverse. However, based on the above Estonian print resources, I decided to only use The Washington Post. The newspaper is based in the country’s capital, well-known for its journalistic reports, considered one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, and is often cited or the basis of articles for newspapers in other countries. Furthermore, upon my examination of American print media, The Washington Post has published a significant amount of stories on GMOs during 1999-2004 from which to compare to the Estonian print media and can be considered on the same qualitative level as the Estonian publications. Therefore, the American newspaper provided the best comparison to the chosen Estonian sources. To analyze the collected print media articles, I used both content and critical discourse analysis. Content analysis was applied to identify authors and opinion sources, risks and benefits, as well other basic text characteristics like the news format and coverage frequency. Critical discourse analysis was used to establish the strategies of framing and the basic arguments applied by different social groups for opposing or adopting GMOs. In addition, the construction of risks and benefits associated with GMOs were identified. Special attention in discursive strategies was given to the use of metaphors and other comparisons as the powerful tools of communication. One part of critical discourse analysis used to analyze the texts was eco-critical discourse analysis, which helps to establish if anthropocentrism is present in media texts. Theories used behind this thesis were Ulrich Beck’s risk society theory and Jürgen Habermas’ theory of science and technology as ideology. Finally, for background and informative purposes, a description of laws, opinion polls, food marks was provided for both countries. By applying the above analysis to the collected articles, it was found that there are differences in several aspects of media coverage in both the Estonian print media and The Washington Post. The main differences appear in terms of article frequency as well as the balance and bias presented in the texts. It appears that Estonian print media rarely reported on the topic until the emergence of Estonian Genome Project debate. The dominance of the project in the media was one of the reasons why people did not debate GMOs. However, at the same time, the constant media attention on the project allowed the public to quickly familiarize themselves with GMO issues. Furthermore, my analysis found that the Estonian print media presented mostly negative attitudes about GMOs in its articles, while The Washington Post’s articles presented a more neutral position. It also showed that Estonian news stories were more negatively biased than in The Washington Post, which leaned toward more positive opinions. In addition to its positive attitudes and bias, The Washington Post also provided more balanced coverage with a larger diverse pool of sources and opinions that discussed several aspects of GMOs. Finally, The Washington Post has covered GMOs for more than half a decade with the same frequency, with the notable exceptions of StarLink fiasco in 2000 and the revelation of monarch butterflies deaths by GMO corn. In contrast, the Estonian print media rarely reported on the topic, until 2003, when several high profile and influential stories occurred. In addition to the above print media comparisons, it was found that the most common metaphors used in public discourse for both countries are Frankenstein related terms, which include “terminator-seeds” and “mutants.” The use of terms attempting to create parallels with the non-pureness of GMO foods or show the inferiority of mixing GMOs with non-GMOs were common as well. Furthermore, lots of military comparisons like “fight” or “battle” are used in media text to refer the GMO related market conflict between Europe and USA. The discourse analysis further revealed that main aspects of describing GMOs are not only economic in both countries, but also political and social. Anthropocentrism was detected in both countries’ media, but more in The Washington Post. The underlying reasons for this are that the US is more driven to economic wealth and benefits than Estonia and, therefore, nature is taken more as a commodity. It was also found that there are also several cultural, traditional, and economic reasons such as past food scares behind the adopting or rejecting of GMO products. Moreover, public discourse reveals differences in cultural attitudes toward nature and food. For example, Estonia, like Europe, applies a precautionary principle in adopting GMOs, while the US applies substantial equivalence principle. The precautionary principle path is followed because of previous food scares in Europe and it means that countries do not want to take too much health or other risks adopting new technology. In contrast, the US is eager to adopt new technologies to acquire quick economic and political benefits, which is evident in the case of biotechnology. It also can be said that Estonian GMO public discourse is a part of the broader topic of Estonian position in the post- communist era and its search of a new identity, which in this case is expressed in its European Union membership and adoption of European values.


H Social Sciences (General), magistritööd, The Washington Post (ajaleht), transgeensed organismid, riskitegurid, riskikommunikatsioon, ajalehed, ajakirjad, ajakirjandus, trükiajakirjandus, Eesti, Ameerika Ühendriigid, sisuanalüüs, diskursusanalüüs