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|Title:||Misconceived: Representations of "The RU486 Debate" in the Media|
Department of Media and Communications
|Abstract:||In December 2005, a cross-party coalition of female senators presented a Bill to Parliament that changed the way Australian women could have abortions. ‘Misconceived: Representations of RU486 in the Media’ is a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of newspaper coverage leading up to the passing of the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of the Ministerial Responsibility for Approval of RU486) Bill 2005 in February 2006, together with an extensive literature review. Analysing all coverage discussing RU486 in three publications – national newspaper The Australian as well as Sydney-based The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald – over a five month period, the study was chiefly concerned with the way RU486 and key stakeholders in the story were framed. The Bill sought to remove the power of veto the Health Minister held over abortifacients coming into Australia, instead assigning the power to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). One abortifacient in particular, known as ‘RU486’ or mifepristone, was already in use in many other countries. When the Bill was successful in February 2006, the TGA could assess RU486 and Australian doctors could prescribe medical abortions as an alternative to the already legal surgical abortion. This study positions itself within the established fields of theory and research surrounding interactions between science and the media, science and politics as well as science and ethics. Previous studies assessing the way science is framed in the media informed the direction of the quantitative and qualitative content analyses. The quantitative analysis found statistical evidence strongly suggesting the invocation of the wider ‘abortion debate’ utilised throughout the coverage, although the Bill itself was about regulation of abortifacients, not the procedure itself. It also found that despite journalists’ use of a wide range of sources, stakeholders presented in the ‘leads’ of articles preserved the status quo and favoured government or ‘anti-Bill’ sources over those in support of the Bill, thus challenging the status quo. The articles analysed fell short of meaningful engagement with the wider issue of Australia’s high abortion rate, based on the proportion of coverage relating to the underlying causes of Australia’s high abortion rate. The majority of coverage focused on the detail of the Bill rather than the ‘horse race’ of political manoeuvring behind it, suggesting a reluctance to revisit the issue after the parliamentary vote was taken. Throughout the coverage there was strong use of emotive language, which could be seen to obstruct objective engagement with the facts of the Bill. Using McKee’s ‘commutation test’, phrases deemed to indicate a particular frame were singled out for qualitative assessment. Four main frames were established relating to the wider abortion debate; portrayals of the medical profession, the use of medical jargon and the rhetoric of risk and claims that ‘accountable’ politicians should be in charge instead of the unelected Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Within the broad framing of the medical profession, the work of Karpf provides the scaffolding for an updated interpretation of the ‘medical’, ‘consumer’, ‘look-after-yourself’ and ‘environmental’ approaches. Interviews were also conducted with three journalists involved in reporting the stories, one from each of the newspapers and three key medical spokespeople frequently mentioned in the coverage, adding a further layer of meaning to the analysis.|
|Department/Unit/Centre:||Department of Media and Communications|
|Appears in Collections:||Honours Theses - Media and Communications|
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