A review of media effects: implications for media coverage of air pollution and cancer

Nandita Murukutla, Namrata Kumar, Sandra Mullin


Air pollution is responsible for 7 million global deaths annually, including from non-communicable diseases such as cancer. Despite the fact that air pollution-related diseases and deaths are preventable, global action for clean air has been slow. Given the media’s vital role in social and policy change, this paper reviews the existing literature on how the media portrays air pollution and the implications this has on perceived links between air pollution and cancer. Our review finds that the media has created public attention toward air pollution and has been effective in raising risk perceptions, but our review also indicates gaps in media reports, including an under-emphasis on health effects. There is a tendency to report episodic incidents rather than chronic air pollution issues, and also scant discussion on solutions to air pollution. The paper concludes with recommendations on how media can play a more effective role as an interlocutor of complex scientific information, enabling an accurate understanding of air pollution and its impacts on health in general and cancer in particular. The media can also improve its audience's ability to interpret and act on this information.