Infectious diseases risk framing in Bulgarian media during early COVID-19 pandemic and the Ebola crisis
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National Centre of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Bulgaria
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1633
Background and Objective:
Newly emerging infections are a major challenge to public health. Motivation for compliance with recommendations may be life-saving and depends on effective communication. The study’s aim is to review risk framings in the media in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020) in Bulgaria and to compare results with the communication carried out in October and November 2014 when Ebola was exported from Africa.

Bulgarian public television central news emissions were screened for information on infections for 1 month in 2020 and 2 months in 2014. A content analysis was carried out. Period lengths reflect observed intensity of spread (EVD 2014 R0 range (1.51-2.53), COVID-19 (1.5-3.5 from early 2020)). Binary, continuous and categorical variables were introduced to match the needs of the analysis. Attention was paid to whether news mention epidemic, symptoms, masks, restrictions, mutation, vaccines, evacuation, testing, preparedness and others. Duration of reportages and choice of interviewees were compared.

Cumulative duration of reporting on infections was 58 min in October-November 2014 and 55 min in January 2020. In both cases information on the epidemic situation in Europe prevailed. Duration of reportages that involve medical doctors as interviewees was higher in 2014 while the presence of foreign technical experts prevailed in 2020. Reporting on other infection was 57% more common in 2020 than in 2014. Evacuation, restrictions and masks were 5 to 10 times more frequently discussed in comparison with 2014, while testing, vaccines and preparedness were 1.14 to 1.6 times more common topics in 2014.

Diagnostic preparedness was framed as more urgent in 2014 while in 2020 early crisis response focused on prevention. To preserve public trust and encourage compliance with measures communication should explain priorities and their consistency with the threat’s nature while setting realistic targets specific to each epidemic.