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UK newspapers' representations of the 2009–10 outbreak of swine flu: one health scare not over-hyped by the media?
  1. Shona Hilton,
  2. Kate Hunt
  1. MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Shona Hilton, MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Hillhead, Glasgow, UK; s.hilton{at}sphsu.mrc.ac.uk

Abstract

Background A/H1N1, more commonly referred to as swine flu, emerged in Mexico in spring 2009. It rapidly spread across the world and was classed as a global pandemic on 11 June 2009.

Objective To analyse UK newsprint coverage of the swine flu pandemic.

Methods Content analysis of 2374 newsprint articles published in eight UK national newspapers between 1 March 2009 and 28 February 2010.

Results Newsprint coverage of the swine flu epidemic was immense. The threat from swine flu was portrayed as greatest in the spring and summer of 2009 when scientific uncertainties about the impact on the UK and global population were at their height and when swine flu cases in the UK first peaked. Thereafter the number of news articles waned, failing to mirror the October peak in flu cases as the virus failed to be as virulent as first feared. Content analysis found little evidence of the media ‘over-hyping’ the swine flu pandemic.

Conclusions The news media's role as a disseminator of scientific information is particularly important in areas of risk perception. Despite a succession of health scares in recent years in which the media has been accused of exaggerating the risks and contributing to public misunderstandings of the issues, this analysis suggests that the UK newsprint reporting of swine flu in the 2009–10 outbreak was largely measured. The news media's role as disseminators of factual health information on swine flu is to be welcomed, particularly in relation to their handling and responsible reporting on scientific uncertainty.

  • Swine flu
  • A/H1N1
  • newspapers
  • content analysis
  • public health gen sa

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Footnotes

  • Funding This study was funded by the Medical Research Council (U.1300.00.008.00002.01).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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