For the better part of two decades now, mass media in the United States and the United Kingdom have reported on supposed links between certain vaccines and autism spectrum disorders. No credible evidence or empirical data exists to support these or related assertions. Regardless, media stories in both countries have given the topics substantial attention and have fostered fear and confusion in the minds of the public, as evidenced by the existence of costly anti-vaccination movements. The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the use of media scare tactics within British and American television news broadcasts involving vaccine-related issues from 2007-2013. I aimed to discover what role television news media might play in the continuation of unfounded fears in each country. Specifically, I considered episodes from NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, BBC News, and Channel 4 News. Drawing from the theories of agenda setting and media framing, I conducted an ideological criticism of fourteen episodes to expose potential fear appeals and scare tactics. My findings revealed three main themes among and between the episodes from each country, involving the nature of outside sources, the features of scripted verbal content, and the variety of visual effects. Altogether, I found that television news programs in the United States rely more heavily on scare tactics than do those in the United Kingdom, thus contributing to the perpetuation of a more pervasive culture of fear.


Atay, Ahmet


Communication Studies


Broadcast and Video Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Health Communication | International and Intercultural Communication | Mass Communication


fear appeals, scare tactics, ideology, vaccination, autism, media, culture of fear

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Michelle J. Kolk