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‘We became sceptics’: fear and media hype in general public narrative on the advent of global public health emergency Dr Mark David McGregor Davis School.

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Presentation on theme: "‘We became sceptics’: fear and media hype in general public narrative on the advent of global public health emergency Dr Mark David McGregor Davis School."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘We became sceptics’: fear and media hype in general public narrative on the advent of global public health emergency Dr Mark David McGregor Davis School of Political and Social Inquiry 27 November 2013 The Australian Sociological Association Conference, Monash University, Melbourne, November

2 Overview Framing the problem Methods Present interview extracts Discussion

3 2009 H1N1 pandemic a media event News (print, TV, net) Public health communication Lived experience

4 Endorsement + low compliance Surveys of publics in Australia, UK, in early months of pandemic Publics agree with government advice Felt that media advice was hyped BUT: Low levels of compliance with advice All this quite soon after the pandemic began

5 Explanations Complacency Perceived severity (fear) Health threat fatigue Politics of fear

6 Research questions How do members of the general public engage with media on pandemic influenza? What are the implications of such engagements for public health? What do these engagements and implications suggest for how we are governed more generally?

7 Methods Melbourne, Sydney and Glasgow (n=116) –(Interviews n=57) –(10 Focus groups n=59) Purposive criteria –Healthy –Pregnant in 2009 –Lung disease/immune disorder –71+ years Advertising and snowballing Thematic analysis

8 Themes Transmediation of pandemic narrative Hyper-reflexivity “we became sceptics” “you gotta be careful”

9 Transmediation of pandemic narrative So what sort of things were you hearing on the news? Natalie: Pandemic. How scary it was. Jason: It’s spreading. People are dying. First case in Australia. First this, first that. Natalie: It sounded a bit like the movie Outbreak. I mean it’s quite exciting to hear words like that. [Laughter] But … ‘airborne’, you know. Quite exciting. It was, it seemed like a big beat-up, but definitely there was a lot of presence in the media about it. (Focus group, 21-30, healthy, Melbourne)

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11 Hyper-reflexivity If the ABC seven o’clock news said there’s a pandemic happening in Victoria, I’d believe it. I’d probably be aware that they’d probably embellished it a little bit because you have to make it seem worthwhile news to report it. It’s no use – even the best journos – it’s no use saying, “It’s a problem but it’s probably gonna be alright.” That’s, that’s not a story, is it? (Alex, 31-40, CF, Sydney)

12 “we became sceptics” Always panic. Always bad news. Always more people being affected by it or a particular person who’s come into Australia who’s got it and they’ve been isolated. And there’s always a panic, you know, “any second now.” The press were waiting I think with bated breath, hoping that a million people would drop dead so it could sell more papers. And it’s just a build up of panic. That’s, that’s what I remember and thinking, “It can’t be that bad. We haven’t been warned to wear masks or anything else. So, you know, it’s just a beat- up, basically”... So we became sceptics. (Peter, both 51-60, healthy, Melbourne)

13 “you’ve gotta be careful” I think if media beefs-up something too much, it makes people blasé about things. And so you’ve gotta be careful with that. But then if they use statistics properly, then people can sort of make their own decision. So as long as the facts are coming through with how many cases and where, then people can sort of make a judgement on how bad they think it really is. And then that would determine how they act and whether they’re gonna be a bit more cautious about it or not. (Deb, 31-40, Healthy, Melbourne)

14 Discussion Public health advice endorsed, but, sceptically received Scepticism (not complacency or fear) framing engagements with pandemic influenza General public position themselves as critical consumers

15 Discussion Pessimistic view –Is this a more subtle politics of fear where consent is obtained even when the public is sceptical? Optimistic view –Is a critical, participatory public health possible?


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