Framing responsibility: coverage of lung cancer among smokers and non-smokers in Australian television news


Correspondence to:
Prof Simon Chapman, School of Public Health, University of Sydney 2006, Australia. Fax: (02) 9036 9019; e-mail:


Objective: To analyse news portrayals of lung cancer and associated inferences about responsibility in Australian television news.Methods: Analysis of television news reports, broadcast on Sydney's five free-to-air television channels between 2 May 2005 and 31 August 2009, for all statements pertaining to lung cancer.

Results: Of 2,042 reports mentioning any cancer, 45 made reference to lung cancer, and 28 (62%) referred to diagnoses of lung cancer in non-smokers. Of 157 statements in these reports, 107 (68%) noted that the person featured was a non-smoker. Non-smokers were portrayed sympathetically and as tragic victims, implying they were not responsible for their condition, the sub-text being that smokers are responsible for theirs.

Conclusions: Television news portrays non-smokers with lung cancer with considerable sympathy. Conversely, smokers are implicitly and occasionally explicitly depicted as responsible for their disease.

Implications: The marginalisation of tobacco caused lung cancer in news, together with sympathetic reporting of lung cancer in non-smokers may contribute to stigma surrounding smoking caused disease that may promote delay in seeking treatment, and de-emphasise the role of the tobacco industry's decades-long smoker reassurance program in promoting smoking.