Sympathy, shame, and few solutions: News media portrayals of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Ines Eguiagaray, Brett SCHOLZ, Caterina Giorgi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: there is a lack of public understanding about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and many countries lack policies to deal with FASD concerns. Given the role of news media in disseminating a range of health information, the aim of the current study was to explore the media coverage on alcohol use during pregnancy and FASD, and to identify ways to improve associated health messages. Design: the current study uses a framing analysis of news media reports about FASD over a 1-year period. Framing analysis seeks to better understand how media messages serve to shape the thoughts, feelings, and decisions of readers. Findings: two frames dominated the media coverage of FASD: a frame of sympathy, and a frame of shame. Some news media encouraged feelings of sympathy for children with FASD, while others encouraged sympathy towards mothers of these children. At the same time, mothers were also portrayed as deserving of shame. Key conclusions: the interrelated frames of sympathy and shame may confuse readers, as they inconsistently hold different parties responsible for the impact of FASD. Media portrayals that encourage women to refrain from alcohol consumption during pregnancy might be more useful than stigmatising and isolating those who do. Implications for practice: practitioners should be aware that conflicting messages about alcohol consumption during pregnancy might lead to shame and confusion, and should encourage openness with mothers to challenge stigma. Guidelines for media reporting should discourage stigmatising frames, and media articles should also consider the role that government, non-government organisations, and the alcohol industry could play for improving FASD shame.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-54
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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