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The large flood inundating areas of Brisbane and Ipswich along the lower Brisbane River below Wivenhoe Dam in January 2011 was extensively reported by the media. An independent Commission of Inquiry was formed soon after the flood with broad terms of reference including matters related to dam operations. Prior to the Inquiry hearings and findings, reporting in the media continued and made strong allegations of blame of the flood on dam operations. The media relied on limited expertise but the articles were portrayed and subsequently re-produced by other media outlets as ‘expert’ analyses. The author’s interpretation is that media claims were misleading and damaging to the public confidence in the role of dams for flood mitigation, and this damage occurred before official Inquiry findings were available.
A brief summary is presented of now publicly available credible reports on the flood event, and a summary is also presented of the key matters and allegations reported in the media related to the dam operations. An analysis and commentary of media reporting on the flood operations of the Wivenhoe Dam is presented in the context of time and people with reference to information and expertise available to the media, and media conduct in relation to fair public interest and professional practice.
Matters of importance for objective and informed knowledge of key technical matters in relation to operation of dams, dam safety, and the inevitable extremes of nature and floods are discussed. The paper then examines the roles and possible limitations of dams engineering professionals in relation to media reporting of such matters.
This paper solely focuses on matters of media examination of the floods and dam operations, and generally does not comment on technical matters that are in the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry.
2011 – January 2011 Brisbane River Floods and Examination by Media of the Dam Operations
ANCOLD is an incorporated voluntary association of organisations and individual professionals with an interest in dams in Australia.