'The cold hard facts' immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases in Australia's newsprint media 1993-1998

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Abstract

The news media have the potential to influence public perceptions about childhood vaccination. Research has quantified the extent of positive news reportage on immunisation but no studies have explored the rhetorical nature and the core appeals that characterise positive reportage. To complement our previous research on the rhetorical nature of anti-immunisation reportage, this paper reviews positive coverage of immunisation in over four and a half years of Australian newsprint media. Three core topics dominated the reportage; the problem of vaccine preventable diseases and low immunisation rates, notions of who is responsible and the implied solutions. The threat of vaccine preventable diseases was conveyed using panic language, disease personification, quantification rhetoric, stories of personal tragedies and portentous tales from yesteryear. Attribution for low immunisation rates ranged from blaming parents to blaming lack of government coordination. However, most blame framed individuals as responsible. The most popular spokespersons were representatives of professional medical bodies who tended to be cast as voices of authority, castigating the ignorance and apathy of parents. Urging of compulsory vaccination, pleas for parents to immunise their children and the provision of information about vaccine preventable diseases were the most frequently occurring implied solutions. Immunisation was promoted as a modern medical miracle, health professionals were portrayed as soldiers in the fight against killer diseases and urges to immunise were usually conveyed through the use of stern directives. Understanding how immunisation messages are framed in the media and the core values to which those messages appeal highlights opportunities for media advocates to enhance desired messages and reframe those which are considered antipathetic to the goals of public health advocacy. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Leask, J., & Chapman, S. (2002). “The cold hard facts” immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases in Australia’s newsprint media 1993-1998. Social Science and Medicine, 54(3), 445–457. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00130-7

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