Heroes, victims, and villains in news media narratives about COVID-19. Analysing moralising discourse in Swedish newspaper reporting during the spring of 2020.Soc Sci Med. 2022 02; 294:114718.SS
This paper explores news media discourse about COVID-19 during the spring of 2020 in Sweden, aiming to provide an understanding of how moralising discourse is employed in narratives about public health risks and responses. We investigate print news media content about the corona virus and COVID-19 during the early stages of the outbreak, guided analytically by framework focusing on the relationship between moral panics and moral regulation. We direct attention, first, to how both moral majorities and villains, i.e., 'folk devils', and heroes are constructed in the news. Secondly, we look at how visions for interventions are produced discursively in relation to such constructions. Our findings suggest that moralising discourse largely target risk behaviours and health care claims of middle-class groups. We also find that news media discourse about the pandemic in Sweden is marked by attacks on government interventions that are distinctly different from observations in other contexts. In conclusion, we discuss these observations in relation the political and discursive context, and the potential impact of moralising discourse on the legitimacy of public health interventions and the welfare state. Finally, we also discuss how our findings can inform theoretical discussions about political populism, moralising discourse and public health.