Influence of content, events and culture on the public discourse about medical genetics in Switzerland – A quantitative media content analysis


  • Bettina Maria Zimmermann University of Basel
  • Steffen Kolb HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences
  • Fabian Zimmermann IRB Barcelona
  • Bernice Simone Elger University of Basel and University of Geneva
  • David Shaw University of Basel



Angelina Jolie effect, issue attention cycle, mass media, medical genetics, newspaper content analysis, public debate


Medical genetics is a broad and expanding field with many important implications for society, but knowledge about media coverage of this topic from recent years is lacking. This study aims to identify topics in medical genetics emerging in print media coverage in Switzerland by quantitatively analysing their occurrence in the public media discourse and assessing culturally conditioned differences between two Swiss language regions. We conducted a quantitative media content screening of print media and news agencies in the German- and French-speaking regions of Switzerland, and eight topics were identified. They demonstrate the large variety of topics in medical genetics present in public discourse. Coverage was dominated by legislative voting on genetics issues and by the preventive surgeries of the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. We found only small differences between the language regions, and coverage was strikingly similar for most variables.

Author Biographies

Bettina Maria Zimmermann, University of Basel

Bettina Zimmermann is doing her PhD in Bioethics in the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Her academic background is in molecular medicine as well as in media and communication sciences. Her doctoral thesis is concerned with information dissemination regarding genetics testing.

Steffen Kolb, HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences

Steffen Kolb received his PhD in journalism and communication science from the University of Hamburg and he is currently full professor at the University of Applied Sciences (HTW), Berlin. His research interests include journalistic coverage of science and risks, comparative research and methodology. His most recent book-length publication is Diversity on Television (2015, UVK Verlag Konstanz Germany).

Fabian Zimmermann, IRB Barcelona

Fabian Zimmermann studied biochemistry at the University of Tuebingen, Germany, and is currently a PhD student at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain. His research interests range from the biological basis of disease to ethical, legal and societal implications of biomedicine.

Bernice Simone Elger, University of Basel and University of Geneva

Bernice Simone Elger’s 2004 habilitation thesis at the University of Geneva was titled Ethical Issues of Human Genetic Databases: A Challenge to Classical Health Research Ethics?. Since 2011 she has been a full professor and head of the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, as well as an associate professor and head of the Unit for Health Law, Ethics and Humanitarian Medicine of the Center for Legal Medicine, University of Geneva.

David Shaw, University of Basel

David Shaw graduated with an MA in philosophy and English literature from the University of Glasgow in 1999, and an MSc in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh in 2001. He obtained his PhD at the University of Lausanne in 2005. Since 2012 he has worked at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, and he is also affiliated with the Department of Health, Ethics and Society at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.


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How to Cite

Zimmermann, B. M., Kolb, S., Zimmermann, F., Elger, B. S., & Shaw, D. (2020). Influence of content, events and culture on the public discourse about medical genetics in Switzerland – A quantitative media content analysis. Communication and Medicine, 16(1), 92–106.