Public responses and reflexivity during the swine flu pandemic in Australia


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    This paper examines key aspects of the Australian public's response to swine flu through an analysis of interviews and focus groups with people deemed at risk by medical authorities. The wider context for the study is provided by risk theory, research on public responses to emerging infectious diseases (EID) and the concept of biocommunicability. We focus on reflexivity in engaging with media, views on the government's response, and vigilance and behaviour change. EID fatigue, a predisposition toward distrusting the media, personal circumstances and location within particular social networks, shaped responses to news reporting of swine flu. People did not link swine flu to already stigmatised groups because they identified it as resident in the community. The continuing dependency of lay publics upon governments and expert systems may help to explain the lack of criticism directed at more traditionally powerful groups. Distancing took a variety of forms. While newspapers emphasised the novel and deadly swine flu narrative, audiences readily described it as just another flu and were unconcerned about contracting it. However, some imagined that others were more vulnerable to the effects of media reporting. Some reported searching the internet for information, which may explain the differences between how they saw it and how it was reported. Also influential was the fact that their lived experiences did not bear out the novelty or seriousness of swine flu. Our discussion is informed by our concurrent analyses of media coverage and interviews with EID experts and journalists involved in the reporting
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)523-538
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournalism Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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