Framing the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Icelandic media: What were the key concerns and who could raise them?


  • Adda Guðrún Gylfadóttir
  • Jón Gunnar Ólafsson
  • Sigrún Ólafsdóttir



COVID-19, media, Iceland, information dissemination, crisis.


The worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable and relevant information dissemination. How well a crisis like COVID-19 is handled depends, in many ways, on how the public perceives the crisis and risks related to it, through the media. Therefore, how the situation is framed, what are seen as key issues, and who is perceived to be in charge, can have implications for the outcome. This article analyses Icelandic news media content about COVID-19 at the onset of the pandemic by using theories of agenda-setting and framing. The objective is to examine how the pandemic was framed, which topics were highlighted and who was given a voice in the media. We specifically investigate what kind of leadership was present during the earliest stages of the pandemic. Using content analysis, we examined media content about COVID-19 from 21 Icelandic media outlets from January 1st to March 31st, 2020. Our conclusions show that from the start of the pandemic, health related subjects, such as disease prevention, COVID-19 statistics and the health care system were salient in the media, though tourism and economic factors were also quite prominent. Furthermore, experts were at the helm of communication whilst politicians remained more in the background. The dissemination of instructions and rules illuminates the relationship between the experts and politicians, as the experts were given a voice in the media to communicate such information. The politicians, however, directly cited the experts, thanked them or endorsed them, when they spoke on instructions and rules in the media.

Author Biographies

Adda Guðrún Gylfadóttir

MSc student in Sociology, University of Oxford.

Jón Gunnar Ólafsson

Postdoctoral researcher, Faculty of Political Science, University of Iceland.

Sigrún Ólafsdóttir

Professor at the University of Iceland.




How to Cite

Gylfadóttir, A. G., Ólafsson, J. G., & Ólafsdóttir, S. (2021). Framing the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Icelandic media: What were the key concerns and who could raise them?. Icelandic Review of Politics & Administration, 17(1), 131–152.



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