Country of Origin

Table 6.1 shows a breakdown of the country of origin of the texts that mention the BP oil spill. Only texts in English were included in the sample.

Table 6.1 Geographical source of items mentioning BP events 2010-12

27 April 2010

27 April 2011

27 April 2012

No. of texts

%

No. of texts

%

No. of texts

%

USA

76

45

56

60

19

61

UK

27

16

11

12

4

13

Rest of world

56

33

11

12

3

10

Unable to determine

10

6

16

17

5

16

(Internet text) Total

169

100

94

101

31

100a

'Note that low numbers make percentages indicative rather than firm findings

The site of the BP oil spill—the USA—begins and remains the main country of origin for English-speaking media coverage, and this reflects not just the direct interest in the events, but also the size of the USA and the number of local and regional newspapers operating there. However, the fact that the events are perceived to be of global rather than just national interest is reflected in the fact that half the English-speaking coverage in 2010 is outside the USA, primarily from the UK. The UK has a specific interest in events, given that BP, while a global company, is British in origin. At the time of the crisis, President Barack Obama positioned BP firmly as a British (rather than global) company (Burt, 2012) and by extension directed the blame and responsibility in the direction of the UK. By 2012, the USA represented an even greater proportion of coverage at 61% than it did in the first days of the disaster, with both the UK (at 13% on a low base) and the rest of the world showing decreased coverage as a proportion in 2011 and 2012. This picture suggests that concerns with the physical effects of the spill in the USA, both real and potential, are of greater ongoing interest than concerns with moral and financial culpability in the UK. That said, the other area of increase over the years by percentage is the geographically indeterminate category, which consists mainly of Internet and blog coverage. This rose from 6% in 2010 to 16% in 2012, which implies a continuing interest in the story at a more general, societal level.

The other issue of relevance to the geographical origin of texts is that linguistic analysis is situated temporally and culturally—that is, when country of origin changes, then style and social practice change. This principle is central to a social semiotic view of communication and is a critical component of the study of language choices—any story of linguistic representation is also the story of the situated style and social practice from which it arises. It can be important in analysis to indicate that the writer is not just a journalist, but a British or US journalist; that the newspaper is national or local; and that it originates in one of the affected Gulf States, rather than an unaffected US state.

 
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