Doctor of Philosophy
Health Information Science
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented impacts, governments and public health authorities globally implemented various measures to control disease transmission, including lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, isolation, and social distancing. Although these strategies have been necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, they have had unintended, but largely predictable, consequences for individuals and groups facing marginalization, including significant increases in the incidence and severity of intimate partner violence (IPV). Indeed, the “shadow pandemic” of IPV came to attention in mainstream news media coverage of COVID-19, bringing new attention to an issue that has rarely had that level of scrutiny.
While it is widely recognized that media coverage can play a crucial role in raising awareness about social issues, including placing pressure on public officials to take action, it is unclear whether and how media framing of IPV affects advocacy and policy responses regarding IPV. In the context of the increased prevalence and severity of IPV during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside increased media coverage, this study examined, using critical media analysis methods, how IPV was covered in major Canadian news sources. This coverage was then linked to advocacy and policy development work through analysis of interviews with IPV advocates and policy actors working on IPV and related issues.
The media analysis analyzed a sample of 366 news articles from 15 different news sources between March 11, 2020, and September 30, 2021. Seven primary themes were identified: 1) Reinforcing stigma: news media’s contribution to misunderstandings and misconceptions; 2) Causes of IPV: misplaced beliefs and distorted perceptions; 3) Stereotypes and simplifications: portrayal of victims and perpetrators; 4) Unseen shadows: the hidden plight of IPV within systems: 5) Unraveling the invisible pandemic: illuminating the impact of COVID-19 on victims and survivors; 6) Fractured foundations: the impact of COVID-19 on GBV advocacy organizations: and 7) Misguided recommendations and fragmented responses to IPV. This study found that most news articles framed IPV in a manner that reinforced stigma, perpetuated misunderstandings, and oversimplified the issue. However, there was an increase among some articles explicitly linking IPV to the COVID-19 pandemic in presenting IPV in broader context. These articles highlighted the experiences of survivors and the challenges faced by service providers during the pandemic, which helped to portray the issue as a social problem that required a systemic response.
The interview phase of the study included 7 advocates from GBV advocacy organizations and 9 federal policy actors who discussed the impact of news media’s portrayal of IPV on advocacy and policy decision making during the pandemic. The findings revealed that news articles that included contextual information and featured advocates as sources had an important impact on policy thinking. These articles helped create a sense of urgency among government policy actors, supporting the development of policies and programs to address IPV during the pandemic. The study’s findings suggest that the media therefore played a key albeit uneven role in shaping public discourse, advocacy efforts, and policy development related to IPV during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Summary for Lay Audience
The Covid-19 pandemic brought about an unprecedented public health crisis, resulting in the implementation of various measures by the government and public health authorities worldwide to mitigate the spread of the virus. These measures included lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, isolation, and social distancing. While these strategies were necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, they also had unintended consequences such as an increase in intimate partner violence (IPV).
The issue of IPV gained significant media attention during the pandemic, and it became a common story in mainstream news coverage. This media attention brought new attention to an issue that had rarely received that level of scrutiny. Media coverage is essential in raising awareness about social issues and can play a crucial role in placing pressure on public officials to take action. However, it is unclear how media framing of IPV affects advocacy and policy responses regarding IPV.
This study examined how the Canadian news media covered IPV during the Covid-19 pandemic and how this coverage influenced advocacy and policy responses. The first part of the study found that most media articles depicted IPV in a way that reinforced stigma and perpetuated misunderstandings. However, some articles connected IPV to the Covid-19 pandemic and presented a broader context. These articles highlighted the experiences of survivors and the challenges faced by service providers, emphasizing the need for a systemic response.
The second part of the study involved interviews with advocates from GBV advocacy organizations and policy actors from government departments. The findings showed that news articles with contextual information and input from advocates had a significant impact. These articles created a sense of urgency among policy actors, leading to actions and policies to address IPV during the pandemic. The study highlights the important role of the news media in shaping public discourse, driving advocacy efforts, and influencing policy development related to IPV during the pandemic.
Naeemzadah, Najibullah, "The News Media's (Re)framing of Intimate Partner Violence During the Covid-19 Pandemic and its Implications for Policy Development in Canada: A Critical Content Analysis" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9395.