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(Mis)understanding the coronavirus and how it was handled in the UK: An analysis of public knowledge and the information environment

Cushion, Stephen, Morani, Marina, Kyriakidou, Maria and Soo, Nikki 2021. (Mis)understanding the coronavirus and how it was handled in the UK: An analysis of public knowledge and the information environment. Journalism Studies 10.1080/1461670X.2021.1950564

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During the coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theories and dubious health guidance about COVID-19 led to a focus on disinformation. But how people relied on the broader information environment to understand the crisis and how it was handled by governments has been given less attention. Drawing on a news diary study of 200 participants during the pandemic, we found they easily identified examples of ‘fake news’ but were less aware of relevant facts that might help them understand how the UK government managed the crisis. Our content analysis of 1,259 television news items revealed broadcasters did not routinely draw on statistics to contextualise the UK’s record of managing the coronavirus or regularly make comparisons with other countries. Given television news bulletins were the dominant news source for many people in the UK, we suggest the information environment gave audiences limited opportunities to understand the government’s performance internationally. We argue that misinformation is often a symptom of editorial choices in media coverage – including television news produced by public service broadcasters – that can lead to gaps in public knowledge. We conclude by suggesting the concept of the information environment should play a more prominent role in studies that explore the causes of misinformation.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: In Press
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
ISSN: 1461-670X
Funders: AHRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 24 June 2021
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2021 07:29

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