Barbara Morsello

The heroes and the plague-spreaders of Covid-19. Newspapers as a mirror of an ambivalent relationship between citizens and public health during the emergency

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This article shares the results of a long-term research on the media coverage of Covid-19 related to physicians and nurses who are among the key actors of the public discourse during the emergency. The research was conducted with the support of the TIPS - Technoscientific Issue in the Public Sphere platform, analyzing 203,344 articles from major Italian newspapers between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021. The analysis of the public discourse reveals a substantial ambivalence: if in the first phase of the pandemic, doctors and nurses played the role of heroes who sacrifice themselves to remind the citizenry to comply with the rules, in the second phase, however, we see the emergence of a conflict between vaccinated versus unvaccinated health care workers. The opening of this fault line says much about the role that public communication played during the pandemic. While the media helped support the importance of the policies adopted by the government, it also forged divisions within social groups that had a strategic semiotic function, as in the case of doctors and nurses, precisely when compact alignment with policy decisions in health care wasrequired. In this context, it will be analyzed, through the concepts of medical populism and moral panic, how specific rhetorics of emergency contributed to a social climate often unfavorable to policy implementation.


  • Newspapers
  • Health Workers
  • Medical Populism
  • Covid-19


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