“Oldies come bottom of Grim Reaper hierarchy”: a framing analysis of UK newspaper coverage of old age and risk of dying during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Gemma Carney*, Stephanie Maguire, Bronagh Byrne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

This article examines UK newspaper coverage during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic March-August 2020. A qualitative framing analysis of public messaging on age in five high circulation newspapers provides a detailed account of who is deemed to be at risk of dying from COVID-19. Newspapers represent older people as most at risk, with disability as a secondary factor. Reports on who is responsible, who is at risk, and who is to blame for deaths from COVID-19 are framed as issues of public health and generational fairness, with individual responsibility occupying a prominent role. We also find two counter-frames. First, in letters to the editor, older people’s pleas for freedom are framed as a fight for their civil liberties. Second, newspapers praise 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore and frame his behaviour as a source of national pride. We identify this as positive ageism. We conclude that reporting across progressive and conservative newspapers reflects age-based stereotypes and paternalism towards older people. Public figures are represented as scapegoats or heroes, offering distraction from the less newsworthy fact that long-term under-investment in social care increased the risk of dying amongst the old and disabled during the pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Early online date12 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 12 Sept 2022

Keywords

  • old age
  • media analysis
  • risk
  • covid-19
  • ageism
  • framing analysis

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