The message and the science: media and COVID-19

Alex Law*, Jim Moir, David Hollick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Communication about the causes, cases, counts and mitigation of COVID-19 has resounded in every nook and cranny of global humanity. All units of life have come to depend on the effective media communication of information about COVID-19: households and workplaces, consumption and leisure, politics and economics, and of course health and wellbeing. During the pandemic people came to depend on multiple sources of information, including social media, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, public service announcements, text messaging and government websites. Reliable information and precise messages needed to be communicated by trusted sources on matters such as the nature of the disease, vaccination, test and trace, medical interventions, transmission rates, quarantine, lockdown and physical distancing. Throughout this process the central concern of politicians and public health authorities was that faulty messaging would increase risk while effective messaging would lower it.

Here we outline a few of the key issues that the pandemic and the public understanding of science communication poses for media educationalists. First, we consider the reporting of centralised messaging about the pandemic as attempts to exert control over what is taken to be the background noise caused by media distortion of science. Second, the process of assembling and reporting data on COVID-19 is more messy than may be apparent from the confident presentation of the facts. Then we turn briefly to scientific journalism, often not covered in media education as a specific genre with its own vocabulary and conventions. Finally, at the other end of the spectrum, the relationship between social media and conspiracy thinking mobilises its own outsider conventions and codes for contesting centralised messaging and scientific knowledge about the virus ranging from fantastical claims to more plausible ones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-8
Number of pages6
JournalMedia Education Journal
VolumeSummer 2021
Issue number69
Early online date19 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2021


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