Media representations of the swine flu pandemic
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 the 11th June 2009. As the pandemic status of the outbreak was declared, media attention was immense, with front page headlines, constant news updates and top story status as scientists and the media tried to understand the potential threat posed by the virus. Often the media have been accused of exaggerating risks, and contributing to public worry and misunderstandings of public health research evidence. In this study we offer the first in-depth examination of the content and ‘framing’ of the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic in UK newspapers. We found that newsprint coverage of the swine flu epidemic was immense, but that on the whole, news coverage reflected genuine scientific uncertainties about the future course of the pandemic. Despite a succession of health scares in recent years in which the media has been accused of exaggerating the risks, our analysis indicates that the UK newsprint reporting of the swine flu outbreak was largely measured. These findings have been widely disseminated to policymakers during the pandemic and have been used to support future pandemic planning. They have also been used to highlight the connections between media coverage of public health issues and health-related behaviour at public talks.