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University study confirms that politics has taken precedence over health issues in media coverage of the pandemic

The research shows that the priority sources of information on TV were not healthcare in any of the initial phases of the COVID crisis.

From left to right, study authors Hildegart González, Inés Olza and Marta Rebolledo.

20 | 05 | 2021

According to the study carried out by three researchers from the School of Nursing, the School of Communication and the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) of the University of Navarra, despite the fact that the pandemic has been an eminently health crisis, the health issue was not the priority in media coverage between the months of December 2019 (pre-crisis phase with the WHO notification) and June 2020 (end of the state of alarm in Spain).

The research developed by the experts - MartaRebolledo, Hildegart González and Inés Olza - focused on RTVE's 3 p.m. news programs, since this is the public corporation and the channel's most watched news program. "In total, we conducted a quantitative content analysis with an ad hoc code designed for this study that allowed us to answer two questions: what were the main topics in the news coverage during that period, and what were the main sources used by journalists to report on the pandemic," explains Marta Rebolledo, from department of Public Communication of the University of Navarra.

The results obtained confirmed that, despite the fact that the public's perception of the staff healthcare, hospitals and the healthcare system in the face of the pandemic was very positive before and during the crisis, "the issue most covered by the news was the legal measures taken by the Government (more than 20%), the mere monitoring of the issue of infections and deaths (13,5% of the news) and the Economics (12%), with health issues (functioning, resources, human resources) in fifth place, with 9% of news and less than 4% in the post-crisis phase, from April 21, when the future de-escalation began to be discussed", details the researcher and professor at the School de Enfermería Hildegart González.

Businessmen, sportsmen or politicians: source ahead of health professionals.
Regarding resource to the information sources -very relevant, as the authors of the research remind us, if we take into account that it is a central element in the construction of the informative story-, the main voice that has narrated the pandemic has been that of the communication professionals themselves, either as journalists on the street or as correspondents.

"In addition, in almost 24% of the news there was not even an informative source . However, the testimonies of citizens, national and international, have also been a recurring resource . Their voices have been employee as the first source in 8.4% of the news", says Inés Olza, researcher of the ICS's project 'Emotional culture and identity' of the ICS.

As for healthcare professionals, the experts have shown that they only appear as the mainsource in 2.4% of the news items, significantly surpassed by businessmen (5.9%), sportsmen (4.6%), experts (4.2%) or other professions such as police, military or artists (5%). "Within the category of healthcare professionals, the media invisibility of nursing professionals is particularly striking, despite being the most numerous workforce within the healthcare staff (70%)", stresses Hildegart González, who adds, along with her co-authors: "It should be put on internship that the media and healthcare professionals work together, so that healthcare information is more present and transmitted in the most appropriate and specialized way by the media".

The research has just been published in the journal Interface with the degree scroll: "Visibility of healthcare during the Covid-19 crisis: a study of sources and topics in television news"; both in English and in Spanish, to facilitate programs of study comparative with other countries. The researchers will continue to work on the repercussions of Covid-19 in their respective fields.