“Oldies come bottom of Grim Reaper hierarchy”: a qualitative media analysis of UK newspaper coverage of who is ‘at risk’ during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Stephanie Maguire, Gemma Carney*, Bronagh Byrne, Ann Marie Gray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

This article examines how a hierarchy of those ‘at risk’ from coronavirus is established in UK media coverage of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A qualitative media analysis of public messaging, hero searching and letters to the editor in five high circulation newspapers provides a detailed account of media representations of at risk groups during the pandemic. Older people are presented as the most at risk, with disability as a secondary risk factor. Opinion pieces by older celebrities and letters to the editor reveal resistance from older people who wish to be counted as human beings with rights to assess their own risk rather than an undifferentiated mass of the ‘vulnerable.’ We conclude that media representations across progressive and conservative papers reflect established age stereotypes and paternalistic views towards older people. The master narrative that only older people or those with ‘underlying conditions’ could die from the virus had the effect of distancing the general population from those ‘at risk,’ thereby making the majority feel safer. We conclude that in order to break away from this narrative establishing a hierarchy of the vulnerable social policy scholars and policy-makers need to be more proactive in establishing a legally enforceable international rights framework for the protection of older people.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 08 Jul 2021
Event50th British Society of Gerontology Annual Conference 2021 - Online, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 07 Jul 202109 Sept 2021
https://www.britishgerontology.org/events-and-courses/past-conferences/2021-lancaster

Conference

Conference50th British Society of Gerontology Annual Conference 2021
Abbreviated titleBSG 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityLancaster
Period07/07/202109/09/2021
Internet address

Keywords

  • ageing
  • social policy
  • COVID 19
  • vulnerable groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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