• Open Access

Trends in news coverage about skin cancer prevention, 1993-2006: increasingly mixed messages for the public


Correspondence to:
Maree Scully, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, The Cancer Council Victoria, 1 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053. Fax: (03) 9635 5380; e-mail: Maree.Scully@cancervic.org.au


Objective: To provide a comprehensive overview of trends in news coverage about sun protection issues in an Australian setting over a 14-year period.

Methods: A content analysis was performed on all relevant articles (N=547) published in two major daily newspapers, The Age and the Herald Sun, from 1993 to 2006. Articles were coded for article type, prominence, theme, spokesperson, topic slant and opinion slant.

Results: The most frequent themes were the health effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure (24% of articles), education/prevention (14%) and product issues (12%). Themes that became more dominant over time were vitamin D issues, solaria issues and fake tans. Sixty per cent of articles included a pro-sun protection spokesperson and 12% an anti-sun protection spokesperson, with the profile of anti-sun protection spokespeople increasing over time. Half the articles reported on topics positive for sun protection, whereas 18% reported on negative topics; however, this difference narrowed considerably from 2001 onwards. In opinionated articles, the opinions expressed by authors were mainly positive (57%) rather than negative (7%) for sun protection.

Conclusions and implications: The findings suggest that the mix of sun protection issues covered and views of sun protection have changed over time, resulting in greater coverage of controversies and issues not necessarily positive for sun protection objectives. These findings imply that evaluation of paid skin cancer prevention public education campaigns may need to take account of the changing news media environment in which they take place.