Purpose: This paper explores the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea in 2015 in order to examine social implications of news media's roles during rumour propagation. There was an alarming level of public fear during the disease outbreak due toan information crisis, resulted by the government's holdback of vital information and the widespread MERS rumours on social media. By paying attention to news coverage patterns of rumours and comparing them across the outbreak period, the paper examines the following research questions: (a) Under what media frames were the MERS rumours reported by the online news? (b) Which media frame did the online news use most frequently? (c) How did the media frames change during and after the information vacuum?. Methods: Content analysis of news articles that covered MERS rumours during the outbreak has been conducted. Inductive open coding has been performed to investigate what reactions and media frames the news coverages have demonstrated to report the rumour propagation. Sample: The article samples were retrieved for big data analysis from the Big Kinds or the Korea Integrated News Database System (www.bigkinds.or.kr), by using the search terms, “MERS” and “SNS (Social Network Services).” A total of 142 articles have been sampled. Results: The paper found 7 reaction variables and categorized them into 2 risk-reporting media frames: risk-alarming frame(Anxiety, Criticisms and Damage) and risk-mitigating frame (Government, Correction, Remedies and Causes). The paper discovered that anxiety was the most frequently observed reaction variable across all phases. The paper also concluded that there has been a decrease in risk-alarming media frames and an increase in attempts to analyze causes for the rumour propagation (Causes), as the outbreak proceeds to the second phase, when the information vacuum finally ended. Conclusion: By exploring a disease outbreak in which ineffective risk management and absence of official information caused significant problems, the paper underlines the need for systematic risk communication measures, endorsed by effective collaboration among political leadership, media and the public.
- health crisis
- information vacuum
- MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)
- risk perception