Have Newspaper, Will Travel?



Media Coverage Analysis - Foot and Mouth disease, UK 2001

Tourism dollars metaphorically went up in smoke as the pyres of animals possibly infected with foot-and-mouth disease burned. Although instances of the disease were reported every now and then, 2001 saw an outbreak of cases that poised to devastate both the United Kingdom’s agricultural and tourism industries.

The outbreak officially began February 20 and resulted in restricted access to many rural areas. It was an effort to prevent the spread.

This had immediate effects on the tourism industry which employs 2.1 million people in the U.K.15

AP Cow

A report issued by the British Tourist Authority estimated that total visits from residents from April through September 2001 were down 9% from that period the previous year.5

Holiday plans, especially Easter weekend, seemed to be particularly susceptible to cancellation.10

Did the media cover the story fairly? The government apparently didn’t think so.

The UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report on the subject, saying that the media’s depiction of the crisis had a damaging effect on tourism. While it acknowledged the story’s significance, the committee said,

“Nevertheless, the impression given by the press and television that foot and mouth disease was a problem ravaging large parts of the country, most of which were unaffected by the disease and its direct consequences, has undoubtedly decided tourists not to come here.”30

It goes on to call the coverage “distorted and seriously exaggerated.”

An economist formerly with the National Farmers’ Union, expressed a similar opinion, saying, “The first casualty of this crisis has been objectivity, with the press getting the whole scale of the situation out of proportion.”11

Paul Hopper, Managing Director of London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau, said that international media overstated the portion of the UK that was “closed."17

“Images of a ‘space suit’-clad Prime Minister, burning cows and closed paths that flashed around the world—not enticing visual representations of a world-class destination,” he assessed.

A May 7, 2001, article in Newsweek’s International edition suggested that tourism troubles might be rooted in myths about the disease.4 Here’s an example:

“Myth: No trespassing! The countryside is barred to visitors.”
“Reality: Most restrictions apply only to certain footpaths. And barely 20 percent of attractions are affected.”

So did the mass media present an accurate picture of the foot and mouth disease outbreak?

It would be hard to say what part of the suggested myths were influenced by interpersonal channels.

Besides some of the general problems trying to prove causality, it is difficult to isolate the outbreak from other events affecting tourism that year. For intance, the British Tourist Authority’s statistics for visits drop even lower after the September 11th-enduced travel woes.





Copyright © 2003

Heather M. Edwards

Last Updated 4/16/03

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