Blog: Project Updates 


 

 

 

Blog 09.05.2022 - Back to the Start: Overview of Initial Covid-19 Press Conferences 

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a myriad of challenges for governments worldwide, not least of which was mounting an effective crisis communication strategy during the initial phase of the pandemic. The things we now take for granted, or worse, perceive as annoying and unnecessary – like frequent press conferences, Covid safety campaigns and coordinated government response teams – were an immense logistical challenge for governments to organize whilst dealing with a rapidly evolving situation. Crisis communication literature suggests that this initial phase of the pandemic is crucial if governments hope to achieve successful crisis management in the long term. [1] Our project therefore aims to research this critical time period in depth, examining the broader context in which communication strategies were developed, analysing the strategies of communication that governments and heads of state used in televised press conferences to steer their countries through the immediate phase of the Covid-19 crisis, and publishing our findings to advance understanding of government communication beyond its current scope. Through a combination of three analytic devices – televised press conferences as the most important means of communication, focus on governments and heads of state from 17 OECD countries as the most important political actors, and the immediate phase of the Covid-19 crisis as a distinct timeframe – we will be able to shed a light on the utilized communication strategies as well as any external factors influencing crisis communication.

Before we go further into the analysis of concrete communication strategies in future blogposts and upcoming publications, we deem it necessary to outline a broader picture of our dataset, starting with the temporal aspects. Even though the pandemic affected nearly every country around the globe – albeit not equally harsh – the concrete timeline of our sample countries varies considerably (see figure 1 below).


Blog_01_timeframe


The first government to hold a press conference addressing Covid-19 was South Korea on the 20th of January 2020, only about three weeks after the novel virus was first discovered. In contrast, the last country in our data set to acknowledge the situation was Turkey with a press conference on the 18th of March, making the country a special case in several ways, as will be discussed in future updates. For now, we want to highlight these initial findings. The reasons as to why such a time disparity between Covid-19 government responses exists will be explored further in the context of our research project. Several other results are noteworthy here. First, there is significant variation amongst countries regarding the timing of initial press conferences. Some governments – like New Zealand – started holding regular press briefings prior to their first confirmed case, while others – including Germany, France and Belgium – display a considerable gap between their respective first confirmed case and the first public statement regarding Covid-19.

Yet another notable thing is the varying length of immediate phases in respective countries. We define the immediate phase of crisis communication in a given country as the timespan between the first press conference and the first time measures were eased. Naturally, this largely hinged on the epidemiological situation governments were faced with, like in Chile, where after announcing a relaxation of measures in April, Covid cases spiked drastically, prolonging the immediate phase until mid-July.[2] However, other factors potentially influenced the duration and country-specific approach to crisis communication, an issue which will be discussed in greater detail in upcoming publications.

By Andreas M. Kraxberger and Christian Schwaderer

[1] Claeys, A. S., & Opgenhaffen, M. (2016). Why practitioners do (not) apply crisis communication theory in practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 28(5-6), 232-247.
[2] Tariq, A., Undurraga, E. A., Laborde, C. C., Vogt-Geisse, K., Luo, R., Rothenberg, R., & Chowell, G. (2021). Transmission dynamics and control of COVID-19 in Chile, March-October, 2020. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 15(1), e0009070.

  

 
 

 

 

 

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Funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)  

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