Publication Details

Jones, S. C., Waters, L., Byrne, F., Iverson, D., Sutherland, M., Gold, J. & Puplick, C. (2012). "Body bags ready": print media coverage of avian influenza in Australia. Health, 4 (10A), 927-932.


In 2006 the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus received considerable media coverage in Australia, as it did in many other countries. It is often argued that the media sensationalizes health crises, and experts cautioned about the risk of panic as a result of fear of avian influenza. The purpose of the present study was to systematically analyze Australian print media coverage of avian influenza in 2006 and to examine whether this coverage served the purpose of informing, rather than alarming, the general public. For the period January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006, 20 Australian newspaper titles were monitored for coverage of avian influenza. The identified articles were analyzed using aspects of protection motivation theory for theoretical direction to determine whether there were any consistent themes or perspectives in the coverage. A total of 850 articles were identified for analysis. Concerning vulnerability, 46% of articles reported the incidence of human cases, with 24% noting that avian influenza was a potential threat to Australia. The most common severity theme was "deadly" with over 50% of mentions, followed by "pandemic" with 35%. Only 11% of articles referred to any form of self-protection. We found that a considerable proportion of the articles reporting on avian influenza were framed in a way that had the potential to incite fear and panic amongst the public; the intensity of media coverage reduced over time; and, of particular concern, that there was little media coverage that focused on protective or preventative issues. Whether an influenza pandemic eventuates or not, it is prudent for governments and health authorities to continually develop appropriate resources and strategies to prepare the health system and the general public to respond to current, and future, infectious disease risks.



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