WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 41-50

Online media coverage of air pollution risks and current policies in India: A content analysis

1 Vital Strategies, New York, United States of America
2 World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Nandita Murukutla
Vital Strategies, New York
United States of America
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.213791

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Background Air pollution is of particular concern in India, which contains 11 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. Media coverage of air pollution issues plays an important role in influencing public opinion and increasing citizen demand for action on clean air policy. Hence, this study was designed to assess news coverage of air pollution in India and its implications for policy advancement. Methods Articles published online between 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2015 that discussed air pollution in India were systematically content analysed. From 6435 articles in the national media and 271 articles in the international media, a random selection of 500 articles (400 from national and 100 from international media) were analysed and coded by two independent coders, after high inter-rater reliability (kappa statistic above 0.8) was established. Results There was an increase in the number of news stories on air pollution in India in the national media over the study period; 317 (63%) stories described the risk to health from air pollution as moderately to extremely severe, and 393 (79%) stories described the situation as needing urgent action. Limited information was provided on the kinds of illnesses that can result from exposure. Less than 30% of stories in either media specifically mentioned the common illnesses resulting from air pollution. Very few articles in either media mentioned the population groups most at risk from air pollution, such as children or older people. Vehicles were presented most often as the cause of air pollution in India (in over 50% of articles in both national and international media). Some of the most important sources of air pollution were mentioned less often: 6% of national and 18% of international media articles mentioned unclean sources of household energy; 3% of national and 9% of international media articles mentioned agricultural field burning. Finally, the majority of articles (405; 81%) did not mention any specific institution or organization – such as the government or industry groups – as the primary responsible stakeholder, thus leaving ambiguous the organizations whose leadership was necessary to mitigate air pollution. Conclusion Gaps exist in the current media discourse on air pollution, suggesting the need for strengthening engagement with the media as a means of creating citizen engagement and enabling policy action. Through greater elaboration of the health burdens and evidence-based policy actions, the media can play a critical role in galvanizing India's action on air quality. These data may suggest opportunities for media advocacy and greater public and policy engagement to address issues around air quality in India.

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