Citation: Chaiuk, T. A., & Dunaievska, O. V. (2020). Producing the Fear Culture in Media: An
Examination on Coronavirus Discourse. Journal of History Culture and Art Research, 9(2), 184-194.
Producing the Fear Culture in Media: An Examination on Coronavirus Discourse
Tetyana A. Chaiuk
, Olha V. Dunaievska
Fear culture has become a central perspective of viewing life in Western societies where the feeling of
vulnerability and insecurity has increased over the past few decades. Sociological studies on the culture
of fear provide the theoretical background for understanding how the media coverage of the
coronavirus outbreak helps to cultivate the audience’s anxiety. The purpose of this article is to examine
how the COVID-19 outbreak was presented in British newspapers and what language means were used
to breed the anticipation of danger even before the first lethal case was registered in the UK, that is
from January 1 to March 5, 2020. To identify the verbal means employed by newspapers to present
the coronavirus as the ultimate threat and thus to cultivate a fear culture among their readers, Critical
Discourse Analysis (CDA) is chosen as the main method of the research, since it looks into how language
means are used in media texts to produce an intended effect on audiences. The study reveals that the
newspapers' editorials, headings, and articles of that period framed the coronavirus pandemic in terms
of fear-mongering by dramatizing reports on the epidemic in China, by metaphorically presenting the
coronavirus as deadly living thing approaching Great Britain and finally hitting the country like a
tsunami, by repeatedly emphasizing the globality of the pandemic and inadequacy of the government’s
measure to curb the disease.
Keywords: Coronavirus, Fear culture, Critical Discourse Analysis, British newspapers, Metaphor.
Ph.D. in Philology, Associate Professor, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Faculty of Law,
Department of Foreign Languages, Ukraine. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ph.D. in Philology, Associate Professor, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Faculty of Law,
Department of Foreign Languages, Ukraine. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of History Culture and Art Research (ISSN: 2147-0626)
Tarih Kültür ve Sanat Araştırmaları Dergisi
Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2020
Though people in Western societies are enjoying good health and longevity due to
advancements in medical science and control of infectious diseases, they feel increasingly vulnerable
to illnesses and worried about their health. Buckingham (2008) calls this phenomenon a “health
paradox”, while Burgess (2008) refers to this as the “worried well”. Thus, fear is no longer a response
to a threat, but “a cultural idiom” (Furedi, 2006, p.vii), which justifies the term ‘culture of fear’ that
Furedi, along with Glassner (1999), uses to talk about modern societies. Fear, therefore, may be
conceptualized nowadays as a social phenomenon (Furedi, 2007, p.2).
It is argued that fear is a “product of social construction”: that is, it is purposefully cultivated
in a society and is then used by manipulators to get some benefit (Altheide, 2002, p.24; also see
Glassner, 1999, p.xxiii). In the modern public space, to obtain the representation of reality, people turn
to mass media (Matsaganis & Payne, 2005, p.385), so we 'play' with fear and “more of our “play
worlds” come from the mass media” (Altheide, 2009, p.48) whose powerful influence shapes the very
foundation of people’s perception (Mazzoleni & Schultz, 1999, p.248). As a result, scientists speak of a
shift from a “fearsome life towards a life with fearsome media” where “fear is powerfully
communicated and disseminated through the media” (Fischer & Bonss, 2013, p.10; see also Grupp,
2003, p.43). In other words, reliance on first-hand, direct individual experience has been superseded
by reliance on information obtained from the media that prioritize negative, extraordinary, sensational
Media tell us what to think about and also affect what we think of a particular topic (Daddow,
2012; Khalid, 2013; de Freitas, 2020). This means that media coverage determines the topics of public
discourse by making media agenda central to people’s everyday conversations and arousing certain
emotions, fear being one of them (de Freitas, 2020). For example, extensive (sometimes inadequately
excessive) coverage of an event turns the public anxious or just too much concerned. Besides extensive
media coverage, the list of techniques that help the media shape society’s perception of risk includes
the volume of information provided, the way in which the risk is framed as well as the symbols and
metaphors used to describe and characterize the risk (Furedi, 2002, pp.52-53).
Cultivation of the “fear culture” is a complex phenomenon that should not be oversimplified,
yet it is tabloids that are often mentioned as one of ‘fear-generators’: they fuel the existing fears
(Altheide, 2002; Furedi, 2006) and use scares to attract readers (Glassner, 1999, p.xxiii). Researchers
point out a peculiar language employed by mass media. Tabloids, for example, provide their readers
with a distinct sensationalist, emotive linguistic compendium with highly influential range of language
use (Conboy, 2006, p.15) that underpins their distinctive use of popular idiom (Conboy, 2006, pp.12-
The role of media in covering public health crises (e.g., SARS and Ebola epidemics) has been
analysed by a number of scholars who have examined a range of features that influence media
coverage. These are proximity to the virus epicentre and local cultures (Tzogopoulos, 2020). Some
scholars also add national and political contexts to this list (Kapiriri & Ross, 2018).
Over the last few decades, fears of contagious diseases, emerging and re-emerging globally,
have been escalated by several epidemics (SARS, Zika, Ebola to name just a few) and medical issues
have become common ‘scares’ in the media (Glassner, 1999; Furedi, 2006; Burgess, 2008). The
diseases have proved to be unpredictable, bring about uncertain, varying risks and narratives in
different contexts (Scoones, 2010). Most of the epidemics had a high death rate, annual seasonal
influenza being the champion with estimated 3 to 5 million severe cases and about 290,000 to 650,000
deaths every year (WHO, 6 November 2018).
The topicality of the research lies in that it aims at clearing out why, though the feeling of fear
is a normal human reaction to uncertainties, the rate of uncertainty and anxiety about the coronavirus
seems much higher than with any other epidemic.
The purpose of the research lies in that it attempts to identify the means that have helped the
media present the coronavirus outbreak as the ultimate threat to humanity in general and every
individual in particular, breeding fear culture on the global scale and affecting everyday practices and
discourse of billions of people. The object of study is to analyse strategies used by British newspapers
to cultivate fear among the readers, while the subject is language means employed to breed fear and
anxiety among the readers. The research material consists of texts (78 articles, 147 headlines) that
appeared in British newspapers (The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail,
The Sun, The Telegraph and others) from January 1 to March 5, 2020.
Methodology and background
The research is based on the concept of discourse interpreted as “practices that systematically
form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault, 1982, p.49). Discourse is understood within the
constructivist framework, i.e. discourse constitutes or adds to the construction of reality. Foucault
states that “in every society, the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and
redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to
gain mastery over its chance event, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality” (1984, p.52). For
Fairclough, discourse is “language use, whether speech or writing, seen as a type of social practice”
(1992, p.28) where language is not neutral. As a result, all texts are seen as “critical sites for the
negotiation of power and ideology” (Burns & Coffin, 2001, p.138) where language is used to construct
and disseminate a social representation of reality.
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) has been chosen as the research method, since it looks into
how language means are used in media texts in order to influence the audience and get the intended
reaction (Van Dijk, 2001; Fairclough, 1992). CDA provides a researcher with the inventory to consider
how the media hone their texts to represent and process the public debate. This approach focuses
primarily on vocabulary, selectivity and representation: each language element is a complicated and
sensitive instrument played by a language user. Thus, the perception and understanding created in the
recipient depend on how the addresser uses this sensitive tool. CDA assumes that, being frequently
used in public discourse, words may become ‘meaningfully joined’ and develop shared connotations.
These connotations, then, spread over all the contexts these words appear in and turn these words
into self-explanatory and emotionally self-sufficient signs. This is how words start to imply fear (cf.,
gang, drugs) (Altheide, 2003).
It is important to note that CDA requires considering media texts (articles in our case) and
events in context, since news narratives do not exist in isolation and are effectively written into the
continuum of issues, events and beliefs that surround them (Bednarek, 2006). Another important
linguistically valid feature a researcher should be mindful of is modality, i.e. “ways in which language
is used to encode meanings such as degrees of certainty and commitment, or alternatively vagueness
and lack of commitment, personal beliefs versus generally accepted or taken for granted knowledge”
(Stubbs, 1996, p.6).
CDA proponents assume that newspaper discourse creates ‘shared values’ and aims at forming
a relationship on the basis of the reader’s assimilation of interests, social expectations and
assumptions (Van Dijk, 1988, p.19; Busa, 2013, p.25). A set of news values may be selected in order to
mould and perpetuate an opinion as well as to establish norms that are accepted by readership
uncritically (Bednarek & Caple, 2012, p.23).
From the point of view of the Foucauldian framework, mass media shape our social world and
contribute to changing everyday life routines, social expectations and public discourse by promoting
the culture of fear. Consequently, the feeling of fear begins to permeate discourse when it ceases to
be associated with only one referent and develops a larger scope (Altheide, 2002, p.3). CDA is
unavoidable to study language choices made by the British press in order to impose their agenda on
their readers, to conceptualize reality as a threat and to 'shape' the readers' idea of the 'common
Results and Discussion
On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a
pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in the Huanan Seafood market in Hubei province, China. 10
days later, the virus was identified as novel coronavirus developed with reference to other
coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, with the estimated fatality rate case 2% and which became 3.4
on March 3. The outbreak received extensive attention of international media including British
newspapers that started to report fearful news from China emphasizing repeatedly that the virus might
reach Europe and framing the disease as a dire threat to Europe and Britain. Two weeks later the WHO
announced that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had spread out of China with cases in the Republic
of Korea, Japan, Thailand and Singapore. When on January 24 France officially notified three confirmed
COVID-19 cases, the media tone of alarm started to get heightened with threats. The outbreak was
declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020 (World Health
Organization, 2020), and later, on March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The intensive media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented: no other disease
has become the core of vigilance of the media dominating the news cycle. The way the epidemic has
been covered by newspapers is by itself a manifestation of the culture of fear inherent in the British
society. Headlines of newspaper front pages were largely centred on fear itself or reacted to it. A Time
Magazine study has shown a huge gap of English-language print news covering the coronavirus
outbreak during the first month compared to the same time period for the Ebola epidemic in 2018:
Throughout January 2020, the first full month of the outbreak, more than 41,000
English-language print news articles mentioned the word ‘coronavirus’, and almost 19,000
included it in their headlines... By contrast, only about 1,800 English-language print news
articles published in August 2018, the first month of the DRC outbreak, mentioned ‘Ebola’, and
only about 700 headlines mentioned the disease. (Ducharme, 2020)
The British press started fear-mongering by using sensational language in its reports to
describe the ongoing disease in China. The media emphasized the possibility of the virus to reach
Europe and, consequently, framed the disease as a keen threat. According to Altheide, in order to
construct the discourse of fear, one turns to emotive means that produce a dramatizing effect on the
audience (Altheide, 2003). This is what is done in The Telegraph’s description of events in Wuhan, the
epicentre of the ‘deadly coronavirus’:
(1) Mask-wearing patients fainting in the street. Hundreds of fearful citizens lining cheek
by jowl, at risk of infecting each other, in narrow hospital corridors as they wait to be treated by doctors
in forbidding white hazmat suits. A fraught medic screaming in anguish in a break-room (Smith &
The two sentences are packed with fear-inducing vocabulary that produces a dramatic effect
similar to that of a scene from a horror movie: the suffocating lack of space (lining cheek by jowl,
narrow corridors), crowds (hundreds of citizens) and illness (mask-wearing, fainting, infecting, hospital,
doctors, fraught, anguish).
It is noteworthy that even before the first death case in the United Kingdom, namely before
March 5, the coronavirus received much attention and was framed as a threat to Brits’ everyday life:
headlines in large font contained catchy alarmist phrases to ceaselessly describe the virus as “deadly
virus”, “killing” and “infecting”, “out of control” and “highly contagious”, the virus that had reduced
“the Hubei province to a ghost town” (Wooller, 2020). Picturing the “never-before-seen killer” virus
(Matthews, Blanchard & Martin, 2020) as a treacherous enemy with “many victims” who “have mild,
cold-like symptoms and don’t realise they have the infection” (Matthews et al., 2020), the UK press
used medical vocabulary (e.g., immunity, pandemic, epidemic, infection, patient, outbreak) alongside
with the vocabulary that transferred the epidemic narratives into a military discourse by developing
the metaphors of war and fight (e.g., a battle, to surround, to defeat, to combat, to hit, to fight, to beat,
Another feature of newspaper coverage that evokes war associations is the permanent
publication of the world map where the readers could see how the virus travelled around the globe:
the map indicated the countries affected by the virus, provided with the data on the number of deaths
as if it were war dispatches, reported the number of schools closed, etc. (see, for example, images in
(Keogh, Borland, Payne & Robinson, 2020)). This layout of information resembles news from the
theatre of operations that informs of the body count and the number of injured.
As a result, the metaphorical language and visuals combined with the term “public health
emergency” transform real life into a script of a disaster movie (see, for example (Stewart, 2020)). This
coverage intensified the atmosphere of fear and boosted the general feeling of anxiety and insecurity
among British readers.
Throughout January and February, 2020, the newspapers wrote about the virus as if it were a
monstrous living thing who had come to life in the faraway part of the world but was gradually creeping
on, covering distances, conquering countries. This is the message delivered by reporters from Daily
Star and the Daily Mail:
(2) …the virus has broken out of China… the disease, which has already killed 17 in China
and has affected up to 1,700 people, could already have arrived in the UK (Moran, 2020).
(3) …the virus crisis tightened its grip on the UK today; coronavirus could now gain a
foothold in Britain (Keogh, Borland, Payne, & Robinson, 2020).
Here, the verbs to break out, to kill, to arrive imply intentionality and purposefulness of the
virus’ actions, whereas the idioms to tighten one’s grip and to gain a foothold picture the virus as a
Scholars believe that national and global responses to epidemics are inherently political: “The
experts selected for consultation, the evidence used to inform response pathways, and narratives of
blame, vulnerability, and responsibility are politically driven” (Kapiriri & Ross, 2020, p.1). In their
coronavirus coverage, The Telegraph quotes “experts” making a gruesome prediction and uses in one
sentence terrifying clichés “killer virus” and “death toll rises”, both evoking the DEATH concept:
(4) Killer virus ‘could reach the UK’ as death toll rises, warn experts (Knapton,
The Telegraph keeps stoking the Brits’ fears by recalling one of the most lethal pandemics
in human history and reminds that its death rate is the same as that of the coronavirus:
(5) …the fatality rate on par with the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which wiped out 50
million people globally (Knapton, 2020).
The density of negatively connoted and fear-inducing vocabulary (fatality rate, epidemic,
wiped out) is combined with the figure (50 million) and the adverb globally, which legitimizes the words
of another unnamed expert who believes that the ‘killer’ may as well be in their country: “one expert
said he could not rule out that the virus is already in the UK” (Knapton, 2020)
The Sun seconds in. The article is titled World War Flu, which sums up the frightening key
features of the virus (i.e., globality, death/danger, disease). The newspaper states that “the virus,
which has claimed 17 lives in China, could already have spread to Britain” (Wooller, McDermott, &
Sales, 2020). Taking into account the population of the Chinese city, 17 deaths is not an impressive
figure, but “perception of risk often has little to do with actual risk” (Furedi, 2006, p.23), especially
when the alarmist language permeates every sentence of the article.
Boosting the anxiety, The Mail assigns globalization to be responsible for the hypothetical, at
that time, the spread of the disease: “Globalization has made the nightmare of pandemics more likely,
and harder to control” (Matthews, Blanchard & Martin, 2020). The threatening situation is exacerbated
by the “complacent” government whom the newspaper urges to step up checks in the world where
“everyone could be a potential transmitter or a victim” (Matthews et al, 2020).
Another paper says that ministers deserve a “rap on the knuckles” for failing to introduce
temperature tests for those coming from infected areas (Duff, 2020). As a result, “the UK is on high
alert with monitoring of flights arriving in Britain” (Moran, 2020), and, at last, “ministers have ordered
a “clampdown” on flights from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak” (Wooller, McDermott &
Sales, 2020). However, The Telegraph expresses doubts about the effect of these measures by calling
borders “too porous”, which implies that they cannot stop the danger from leaking into the country.
Therefore, the public is convinced that the virus is far from warded off:
(6) The deadly coronavirus outbreak in China could reach Britain because borders are too
'porous' to keep the infection out, experts have said (Knapton, 2020).
The anxiety and feeling of imminent danger generated by media increases after the first cases
of the virus are reported in France on January 24. At the time, the British National Health Service
officials start tests for potential patients that may have contracted the virus. Interestingly, the British
press gives prominence to articles on the public fear rather than informative materials about the
spread of the virus itself. The Times, for example, publishes the article titled China coronavirus:
Growing fears over virus as tests begin in Britain (Smyth, Lloyd, Andrews, & Puttick, 2020). Further in
the article, the newspaper quotes Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who warns of “likely” cases of
the “rapidly developing global outbreak in which more than 20 million people have been quarantined”
(Smyth et al., 2020).
The audiences who have been exposed to ‘fear climate’ and perceive everyday life as always
somewhat dangerous are more inclined to regard the coronavirus as a real threat and, thus, to accept
easily the 'worst-case scenarios' forecast by media. These 'worst-case scenarios' are seen by many
scholars as part of the fear culture. British newspapers enhanced the spread of scares by their
repetitive predictions of the outbreak and anticipation of worse scenarios. The Daily Mirror, for
example, says that the virus will be “impossible to contain here if it sweeps mainland Europe” (Bagot,
2020). Ministers are “considering a worst-case scenario that 50 million people here could catch the
bug and it could kill 500,000 – mainly the elderly and those already unwell” (Bagot, 2020). This “could
involve up to 80% of the population being infected” (Bagot, 2020). Thus, the newspapers elaborate on
the worst-case scenario by providing the figures and specifying social groups that will be affected the
The Guardian gives a further dash of the approaching global threat by reporting that the
outbreak “has accelerated across Europe with new cases in four countries and a rising death toll in
Italy, which is struggling to contain the outbreak” (Mason & Siddique, 2020). Thus, the danger becomes
even more real for the UK as more European countries fall victims to the virus. The Daily Mail talks
about “growing fears that the coronavirus could now gain a foothold in Britain because of the 100,000-
plus people travelling between the two countries every week” (Keogh, Borland, Payne & Robinson,
Haunted by fear and repeatedly informed of the authorities’ “desperate bid to delay the
outbreak” (Bagot, 2020), British citizens are consistently pushed to two conclusions: the inevitability
of a lockdown and emphasis on self-reliance. An article published on February 27 mentions stockpiling
and stocking four times (stockpiling frenzy, stocking food) to describe the Brits' preparations for an
uncertain future, e.g.
(7) …yesterday spooked mums spoke of stockpiling medicines, food, nappies, water and
pet food online. (Bagot, 2020)
When the coronavirus does arrive in the UK, the newspapers are quick to report that “experts
who helped to fight the deadly SARS virus” accused the British authorities “of missing the ‘golden
period’ to curb the outbreak” (Matthews, Blanchard, & Martin, 2020). Another newspaper writes that
“officials give up stopping the disease and focus on delaying its inevitable onslaught” (Borland, Groves,
& Spencer, 2020). This statement was easy to believe in, because it actually declared that the expected
‘worse scenario’ had come true. The Daily Mail reporters add more fuel to the bonfire of fear:
(8) …it’s been alleged that those infected in China are freely roaming the streets
(Matthews et al., 2020)
The atmosphere of insecurity, threat and anticipation of the worst is noticed and reported by
the newspapers that remark on “panic buying in supermarkets and people travelling on public
transport in makeshift masks” (Borland et al., 2020).
It is interesting how the press used modality in their texts along the ‘certainty - uncertainty’
scale. Above, we have seen the reporter hedging the statement with it has been alleged, which gives
the reader food for thought rather than verified information.
The Sun was absolutely categorical in their initial statement (often a headline):
(9) Coronavirus is sure to become a deadly epidemic (THE SUN SAYS, 2020).
Yet, the newspaper was less categorical in its further claims when it wrote that the number of
patients “looks certain to soar” (THE SUN SAYS, 2020). While is sure to express absolute certainty (just
like the adjective inevitable that repeatedly appears as a modifier to the terms epidemic and
pandemic), the phrase looks certain is far from being absolutely categorical and assertive because looks
is a downtoner (cf., ‘it looks certain’ vs. ‘it is certain’: looks has a strong meaning of personal, i.e.
subjective, assessment, while is presupposes unbiased objectivity).
It is remarkable how one may play down even the inevitability of the adjective inevitable. This
is what we find in the following case:
(10) Ministers are now expected to escalate their response which would mean no longer
trying to ‘contain’ the disease’s seemingly inevitable spread (Borland, 2020).
The adverb seemingly, again, reduces the author’s responsibility for the statement by adding
a touch of personal opinion. A similar process is observed in another sentence that quotes an expert:
(11) Professor Whitty warned the virus was probably already spreading person-to-person in
the UK and an epidemic was looking ‘likely’ (Borland, 2020).
Here, the journalist uses several hedges: the modal word probably, the verb look and inverted
commas with likely. The commas are intended to emphasize that this very word is Professor Whitty’s
Another example of avoiding categorical statements is found in The Daily Telegraph’s article
titled “Pandemic funeral services could be streamed online to cut infections”. The very title contains
the modal verb could that presents the proposition as a possibility in future but not a fact. In the article,
the journalist reduces the categorical meaning twice – with the modal verb and with the conditional
(12) Funerals of coronavirus victims could be transmitted to mourners over the internet to
prevent the spread of the disease if it becomes a pandemic (Rayners, 2020).
It should be noted that could appears regularly in the publications of the sample.
Taking into account the January-February newspaper discourse, it came as no surprise when,
on March 4, the Department of Health and Social Care of England reported that the number of
coronavirus patients had jumped from 32 to 85 cases, the biggest daily increase recorded. Although at
that time there was not even a single death case within the UK (the first death case of a 70-year-old
woman with some other previous illnesses was confirmed on March 5), the acute sense of fear was
skilfully planted and enhanced by the British press. On the very next day (5 March), the British papers
published a scene from the Doom Day with the help of metaphorical language that sent the readers
straight to the inevitable apocalypse: “the wave is coming” and “nothing can stop” it from “sweeping
Britain” (Sheldrick & Hall, 2020). What was pictured as a strong-limbed monstrous killer turned into a
devastating tsunami with the help of the word wave. Just like with any tsunami, there will be “the point
of no return” (Borland, Groves, & Spencer, 2020): “things will soon get more serious” and there will be
a need for “more draconian steps sooner rather than later” because (as it has been mentioned
numerous times before) “the health service lacks the beds, staffing and resources” (THE SUN SAYS,
The Independent boosts the dramatic effect by publishing their reporter’s first-hand
experience in a hospital: it “was full and patients were waiting over 12 hours in A&E for admission”
(Lintern, 2020). The journalist reports a doctor’s terrifyingly helpless comment that the chaos occurs
“before we’ve even contemplated dealing with a single coronavirus case” (Lintern, 2020). The
Independent goes further in spreading horror among the readers by saying that some victims won’t be
allowed to be hospitalized: the paper quotes the Chairwoman of Association of Critical Care Nurses
who tells about the shortage of resources and the necessity to face the horrible reality:
(13) There simply aren't enough beds. We will need to make difficult decisions about which
patients are admitted. The general public have a right to the truth (Lintern, 2020).
The passage from The Daily Telegraph may be considered the climax of fear-mongering. It
brings together the two topics that are viewed as the most impressive for human psyche – death and
disease – in the article titled Pandemic funeral services could be streamed online to cut infections. The
density of the negatively connoted vocabulary is remarkable: here we find “funeral services”,
“crematoria”, “mortuaries”, “funerals”, “mourners”, “bereaved relatives”, “cremations”, “multiple
graves” (all are slots of DEATH concept) as well as “pandemic”, “infections”, “coronavirus victims”,
“disease”, “contracting the illness”, “to infect” (slots of DISEASE concept). The article prepares the
readers to face numerous deaths and the virus’ horrendous fatality:
(14) … crematoria might have to stay open 24 hours a day… to cope with up to 50,000 extra
deaths a week (Rayner, 2020).
The fear connected to the coronavirus outbreak is related to the broader culture of fear and
anxiety typical of modern Western societies. However, the COVID-19 epidemic had been given
exceptional attention in the British press months before the virus came to the UK. As the study has
revealed, the newspaper editorials, headlines and articles of the sample framed the epidemic in terms
of fear-mongering: starting from January 1, they gradually intensified the feeling of fear and anxiety
by dramatically picturing the epidemic in faraway China until the first death case in Great Britain on
March 5. To cultivate the premonition, the newspapers employed a range of strategies: they described
the epidemic in the Chinese province as if it were a horror-movie script; they persistently used death-
and war-related vocabulary and visuals, which, at first, pictured the virus as a vicious monstrous living
thing from a distant part of the world and which later turned into a destructive tsunami hitting Britain;
they kept on emphasizing the global scale of the epidemic, which implied that the UK would inevitably
experience the onslaught of the disease; they kept on accusing the government of insufficient or
belated measures taken to stop the pandemic and, by doing so, stoked the worst-case scenario
expectations in their audience. The study shows an important role played by mass media as the main
constructor of social reality (the media point out dangers, shape anticipations, and cultivate anxiety
and fear in their audiences) whose main tool is language.
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