The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic—a devastating global public health crisis—has infected 627,104,342 people worldwide and caused the death of 6,567,552, as of 1 November 2022 (World Health Organization, 2022). The lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus have compelled factories, shops, and schools to be closed temporarily; numerous people have lost their jobs and are forced to quarantine themselves inside their houses, which is primarily affecting the livelihood of the underprivileged classes in underdeveloped regions; flights are cancelled, and fear and anxiety have spread everywhere (Samaddar, 2020). As of November 2022, this global pandemic has still not been effectively controlled, indicating the dire need for a global cooperation mechanism to respond jointly to this crisis.

However, in stark contrast to the mechanism that usually promoted international cooperation in past global crises (Cooper, 2010; Kentikelenis et al., 2015; Mawhinney, 2007), the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be heading in a completely different direction. A typical example is that the United States (US) government announced its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which undoubtedly affected the global understanding of COVID-19. Thereafter, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale, some countries, including the US, have suffered serious impacts, and their unique anti-pandemic policies have also attracted quite a lot of global media attention. For example, the irresponsible handling of the COVID-19 situation in the US has attracted several criticisms (Gostin et al., 2020; Porter, 2020). We believe that global media reports on a country’s response to and management of the pandemic are very different—be it the US, or other countries. In this sense, this media landscape has also played a key role in influencing people’s image of the US. Despite the large number of studies on COVID-19 since the outbreak of this pandemic, unfortunately, to date, very few studies exist on the differences in global media coverage of COVID-19. We believe this is an important overlooked detail in the process to promote the formation of an effective international anti-pandemic cooperation mechanism. Hence, the first key research question of this article (RQ1) is as follows: Are there any differences in the attitudes of global media reports towards a specific country during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and if so, what are they?

The vast majority of knowledge production about COVID-19 is concentrated on the epidemiological level (Mendes & Carvalho, 2020). There are also a large number of sociological observations on this issue. For example, some observers have commented on the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the use of public space (Morton, 2020); Some have paid attention to the impact of the virus on borders and mobility (New York Times, 2020); Some have focused on the devastating impact of the virus on global economics (Samaddar, 2020); And yet, others have been concerned about the unequal use of social resources during pandemic prevention and control (Brooke & Jackson, 2020). These studies have discussed the ways how urgent public health incidents have affected and reshaped social space and structure, which illustrates a hot-spot topic across the field of social science, even in geography. For example, several geographical journals have also promoted special issues to discuss this topic, urging geographers to emphasise the geographical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspectives of space, scale, community, territory, and spatial imagination (Dodds et al., 2020; Rose-Redwood et al., 2020). However, we know that the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic far exceeds the scope of any single discipline’s research paradigm. It is regret to see that interdisciplinary attempts are rare in the existing studies and observations on COVID-19. The analysis of the socio-political impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of interdisciplinary research—for example through geo-politics, international relations, media studies, and geography—is of great importance and has reference value to understand the ways of how the pandemic is reordering global politics. This can help find an effective international cooperation mechanism to curb the spread of COVID-19. These important issues are highlighted in this article.

The paper is divided into six parts. The first part introduces the background of this study and raises the first key research question about the difference in the global media’s attitude to a country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part briefly reviews the theories related to the global media landscape, thus raising the second key research question of this article (RQ2): What factors forecast the media’s attitude towards a specific country in global news reports on COVID-19? By raising this research question, this part also offers an overall analytical framework for this study. Then, in the third part, it introduces the research design of this study, including the samples, data and resources, analysis strategy, and variables. Subsequently, the fourth part provides the results of data analysis, followed by an in-depth discussion of the main conclusions of this study. The final part inspects the main findings and underlines the potential significance and implications for the future research.

Theories on Spatial Difference in Global Media Reports

The theoretical and methodological tenets of this paper are drawn from framing theory. Even though framing research draws different theoretical positions in social science and interdisciplinary approaches (D’Angelo, 2002), it is generally believed that a frame helps people organise what they see, read, perceive, and understand in everyday life. Specifically, framing refers to selecting certain aspects of the perceived reality and making them more prominent in the communication texts, thereby facilitating the definition of specific issues, causal explanations, ethical assessments, and/or treatment recommendations for the items described (Entman, 1993). This also means that a frame highlights some aspects of reality while excluding others, which leads individuals to explain the same issue in different ways. It is noteworthy here that, in conducting actual analysis on frames, the discussion should not be simply equalled with storylines, positions, or attributes, but should transcend frames as a structuring role (Reese, 2007).

The use of frames in media report on particular topics is quite common and can be empirically identified in a wide range of media and discourse analyses in various social science studies. For example, in the field of climate change, Vu et al. (2019) focus on the ways of how the media from 45 countries frame global warming and climate change and, in doing so, investigate how such nationalised coverage influences the public’s understanding of climate change and each country’s relevant policymaking. Moreover, in geopolitical studies, Woon (2020) examines how the Chinese discourse of Polar Silk Road is framed in the country’s academic community by applying the conceptual tenets of framing theory and concludes that the Chinese scholarly community evokes positive frames about the Polar Silk Road to justify and defend China’s ongoing interests in the Arctic region.

In this sense, it is not surprising that frame use is widely involved in global media reports on the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to the reports on climate change (Vu et al., 2019), or geopolitical issues (Woon, 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic is also a global issue. The virus would not differentiate nationality, race, class, and culture when infecting humans, but the frames used in the global news reports on COVID-19 never seems consistent. For example, if we take a cursory look at the global media report on COVID-19, we can identify several different frames for viral media reports. Among them, the most common one would be the scientific frame, where news agency or/and journalists attempt to collect scientific evidence to support their opinions, for instance, to introduce science knowledge about the viruses and their possible impact. In this regard, an online news report from COVID-19 News Updates that pointed out the possible link between COVID-19 and climate change could be seen as a typical scientific frame use: ‘Pope Francis likened the coronavirus pandemic to recent fires and floods as one of “nature’s responses” to the world’s ambivalence to climate change’ (Harib, 2020). Moreover, the cooperation frame is also a popular frame in global news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic, where quite a number of news pieces called for global cooperation in this struggle. From this lens, a CNN news report that urges the US and China to team up to fight COVID-19 is a good example: ‘The threat posed by the virus knows no borders. The disease ravages countries without discrimination, kills with reckless abandon, makes daily life unrecognisable, and massively disrupts economic activity. When it comes to COVID-19, there are no winners, only losers’ (Bollyky & Kupchan, 2020). In contrast to the former two frames, the geopolitics frame is also quite influential. For example, there is a kind of news report that tends to illustrate concerns about the deteriorating geopolitical situation because of the pandemic. In this aspect, an item from CNN News is an excellent example for this frame: ‘The novel coronavirus has destroyed lives and livelihoods in both the US and China. But instead of bonding the two nations together to fight the pandemic, it has sent their already strained relations on a rapid downward spiral-and fanned the flames of a potentially dangerous strain of nationalism’ (Gan, 2020).

The above frames more or less imply the media’s attitude and tendency when reporting COVID-19. For example, the scientific frame may be relatively neutral, the cooperation frame may be more positive, while the geopolitics frame might be much negative. However, this does not mean that these frames can guarantee the exact attitude of relevant media reports. For example, the scientific frame can also be negative or positive. Not to mention, we believe that there may be more frames in these news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic. From these perspectives, the framing theory, in a sense, only provides a qualitative way to emphasize the information sources, interpretation approach, and potential tendencies that these media reports rely on, rather than a quantitative way to measure media’s attitude. Regarding the differences in the global media’s attitude towards specific issues have a great impact on the formation of international cooperation mechanisms and the evolution of international politics (as the public’s perception of certain issues always relies on the media, see: Boykoff & Rajan, 2007), it may be more urgent to provide a more accurate and measurable way to measure the frames adopted by media reports than to qualitatively classify the frames adopted by media reports. This is exactly the part that this paper attempts to improve on the basis of framing theory, to establish a quantifiable way to measure the media attitudes involved in different frames. This is also where our RQ1’s theoretical and analytical framework is based.

Rather than identifying media’s report structures, framing theorists have also identified a number of socio-economic factors such as economy, ideology, culture, and stereotypes that might influence media attitudes in reporting practices (Entman, 2007). For example, in Vu et al.’s (2019) exploration of global media reports on climate change and their influencing factors, it was found that predictors such as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, climate severity, and government effectiveness have a statistically significant impact on the media practices in different countries; Woon’s (2020) research also confirmed that socio-economic factors such as Chinese economic aspirations, environmental awareness, and national identity have a notable impact on the construction of Chinese scholarly community’s geopolitical frames of Polar Silk Road. From this perspective, it would be very helpful to interpret the manner of how the media from different countries contextualises the same issue for their audience by assessing the relationship between media coverage of COVID-19 and socio-economic factors of these countries, that might affect such media practices, as this study aims to. Such exploration would be beneficial to the establishment of public health and safety cooperation mechanisms or paths among different countries and regions under the current trend of conflict and misunderstanding in international politics. In this regard, another key purpose of this study is to explore the possible socio-economic indicators that may influence the landscape of global media coverage of COVID-19. This lead us to the RQ2: What factors forecast the global media’s attitude towards a specific country with regard to the reports on the COVID-19 pandemic?

Based on the above theoretical construction, this study designs the following research framework to answer RQ1 and RQ2. First, we collected media report data from the GDELT database. According to the attitude of each piece of new report, a country’s attitude towards the US in news reports about COVID-19 is calculated by the average attitude value (tone) of all new reports within the country. Mapping all countries’ overall attitudes answers RQ1. Second, we build a linear regression model to explain the attitude (RQ2). Specifically, taking a country’s media attitude as the dependent variable, and a series of influencing factors as independent variables, we examine how economic, socio-political, cultural, and pandemic factors influence a country’s media attitude to US in terms of COVID-19.

Materials and Methods


This study focuses on media reports provided by the GDELT project. The GDELT is an open-source database in over 100 languages, which was established in 2013 by Georgetown University and is supported by Google Jigsaw to follow global events by monitoring web, broadcast, and print news from all over the world.Footnote 1 The GDELT database is widely used in international relationship studies, i.e., revealing cooperation and conflictual interactions between countries (Yuan et al., 2020). The global event data in this database are updated every 15 min. Considering the data acquisition and processing methods of this database, the GDELT is currently the most stable and reliable database on international relations (Ward et al., 2013). Furthermore, in this database, the non-English news is translated into English by the GDELT translingual platform; therefore, it is possible to obtain new reports from both English speaking and non-English speaking countries. The data quality and language accessibility are two key reasons for us to choose the GDELT for this study.

We identify COVID-19 related news reports by using the database query process in the GDELT with key words like ‘COVID-19’, ‘coronavirus’, or/and ‘SARS-CoV-2’ to search for relevant event data. The database defines the role of ‘initiator’ or ‘target’ of a country in a global news event, wherein an initiator country takes an action on a target country. For example, in a news report, ‘China providing medical assistance to the US’, China is an initiator, and the US is a target. We have selected the US as the case study considering that it is one of the countries that has been most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. To investigate the media’s attitude toward the US and filter out irrelevant reports in the query process, we set the ‘target’ of a news report as ‘the US’.

The media’s attitude is measured by the ‘tone’ of a news report. The tone of a piece of news report is measured by a tonal algorithm (Shook et al., 2012). Precisely, the ‘tone’ of a news document is calculated by measuring the percentage of words in positive lexicon, the percentage of words in negative lexicon, and subtracting negative from positive (Iglesias et al., 2017):

$$tone=100\times\frac{\sum positive\;\;words-\sum negative\;words}{\sum total\;words}$$

A tone score ranges from -100 (extremely negative attitude) to + 100 (extremely positive attitude), with 0 indicating neutral. Common tone values are between -10 and + 10 (Leetaru & Schrodt, 2013).

Finally, we have collected 6.1 million pieces of news reports related to COVID-19 around the world between 1 December 2019 and 30 June 2020.

Media Analysis

Since the information of the event data is based on the actual coordinate location which publishes the news report (Fig. 1), we need to further process the collected data to answer RQ1, that is, to map out other countries’ overall attitudes towards the US in news reports about COVID-19. Thus, we arrive at global perceptions. Based on the tone value and the geographic information of each report (i.e., longitude and latitude values), we used the following method to accomplish this.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The tone values and geographic information of global news reports related to COVID-19

A country’s attitude to the US is the average tone scores of all news reports within a country:\({Y}_{i}=\sum_{r}{T}_{r}/{N}_{i}, r\in i\), where ‘Tr’ is the tone score of a news report ‘r’ and ‘Ni’ is the number of news reports in country ‘i’. The value of ‘Yi’ ranges from –10 to + 10: the higher the value, the more positive the attitude of country i towards the US with regard to COVID-19. Mapping the distribution of ‘Yi’ of all countries would uncover the global media attitude towards the US in terms of COVID-19 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Global news report’s attitude to the US in terms of COVID-19 (by countries)

Variables and Correlation Analysis

To answer RQ2, regarding the potential influence of several factors, at the national level, on the global news reports’ tone value towards the US about COVID-19, we introduced possible external variables (Xip) to explain the regional differences in the global media attitude towards the US (Yi). To explore the relationship between Xip and Yi, we establish the multiple linear regression model:

$${Y}_{i} = {\beta }_{0} +{\sum }_{p}{\beta }_{p}{X}_{ip}+ {\varepsilon }_{i}$$

Dependent Variable

In this model, the dependent variable is assuredly the global media’s attitude towards the US as reflected by various countries (\({Y}_{i}\)).

Independent Variables

In the “Theories on Spatial Difference in Global Media Reports” section of this paper, we have discussed framing theory (Entman, 1993, 2007) that has potential to further understand the intersections between global media and world politics. From the framing theory, it suggests that the media discourse is always profoundly embedded into specific economic, socio-political, and cultural contexts. Considering this characteristics of media discourse, we have introduced some independent variables related to a country’s economic, socio-political, and cultural contexts, in order to explore the possible reasons for the regional differences in global media attitudes towards the US, in their portrayal of COVID-19 and their impact mechanisms. Furthermore, considering that COVID-19 is an urgent global event, the degree of impact of each country on this pandemic is also regarded as a variable and included in the analysis of this model. The data of these variables are obtained from online databases of renowned global organisations including the World Health Organization, World Bank, Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, the GDELT, Geert Hofstede, and Opendoors. Selection was because these variables are related either directly or indirectly to the ways in which a global pandemic (i.e., COVID-19) may be portrayed in the media. These independent variables include:

  1. 1)

    Economic variable

For this group, we used GDP per capita from the World Bank to represent the comprehensive economic development of a country (The World Bank, 2020).

  1. 2)

    Socio-political variables

For this group, we used four indicators to evaluate the socio-political environment of a country and its socio-political connections with the US. They include: a) Government effectiveness is from the World Bank and measures the effectiveness of a country’s governance, such as policymaking and implementation, civil service, and government independence from political pressures (The World Bank, 2020). The figure of this indicator ranks countries from 0 to 100: the higher values, the stronger the effectiveness. b) Press freedom, which is an indicator that is a ranking developed by Freedom House after assessing the record of press freedom in the world as represented by countries in the past year (Freedom House, 2020). This ranking reflects abuses and acts of violence against journalists in different countries. Higher values mean less freedom. c) Global peace index is a set of indicators used to measure how peaceful a country or region is, both nationally and internationally. This index is composed of 24 indicators related to domestic and international conflicts, social security, and the degree of militarisation. The scores range from 0 to 100 with 0 being the best and 100 the worst. This set of indicators has been launched and updated yearly by the Economist Intelligence Unit since 2007. The figures in this study were retrieved from the 2020 data (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). d) Conflict events with the US is the conflict event number between 1 December 2019 and 30 June 2020, with the US as the target. This data is from the GDELT that could be used as an indicator to measure the degree of geopolitical tension between this country and the US.

  1. 3)

    Cultural variables

For this group, this study used two indicators to measure the cultural difference of a country with the US: a) cultural distance, which measures the ways in which people’s understanding or dealing with the same things differs across groups: the longer the cultural distance, the more the difference in perception. The data of this indicator was downloaded from Geert Hofstede. b) international students in the US (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020), which evaluates the acceptance of the culture of the US in different countries: the higher the number of international students these countries have in the US, the more acceptance these countries tend to have of the US culture. The figure of this indicator was downloaded from the database of Opendoors (OpenDoors, 2019).

  1. 4)

    Pandemic severity variable

For this group, we used the confirmed COVID-19 cases in a country as the indicator to measure the severity of or to what extent a country is affected by COVID-19. The relevant data of this indicator were downloaded from the database of the World Health Organization (World Health Organization, 2020).

Noteworthy here is that we found that some countries have data missing in some aspects in the process of obtaining the above variable data, and we used the method of interpolation in Stata to provide the missing data. Based on the above several sets of data, we have examined their correlations with the data on global media attitudes towards the US with regard to COVID-19, and in the following parts, we will present the analysis results and related discussions.


RQ1 asked about the overall attitude towards the US about COVID-19 in global news reports. We calculated the average tone values of all news reports from 228 countries, and analysis of the data showed that the global media attitudes towards the US have never been concentrated and convergent. In contrast, they have shown huge regional differences at the national scale. We drew the average attitude of each country on the world map (see Fig. 2) and found that the regions with the most negative media reports on the US are concentrated in areas such as the Middle East, North Africa, Central America, and East Asia.

We selected the top 30 countries with the most negative reports towards the US about COVID-19 (Table 1). Among these, 20 were in regions with the most obvious and intense geopolitical conflicts with the US, such as Libya, Syria, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Tajikistan, and Oman in the Middle East; North Africa, Grenada, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, and Ecuador in Central America; and Myanmar, North Korea, and Nepal in Asia.

Table 1 Top 30 countries with the most negative reports about the US about COVID-19

RQ2 asked about the factors that might influence the tone scores in global media reports on the US about COVID-19. We used Stata to perform a multiple linear regression analysis, represented in Table 2, on the relationship between the eight national macro factors and the global media attitudes towards the US by other countries. Descriptive data showed that of the eight, global peace index, GDP per capita, and cultural distance, as a socio-political, economic, and cultural variable, respectively, were the three most statistically significant predictors affecting global media attitudes (β = -0.180, β = -0.123, p < 0.05, and β = -0.0119, p < 0.05, respectively). This indicates that the media reports from countries with lower peace index, with better economic environment, or with greater cultural distance from the US tend to frame the latter negatively in terms of COVID-19. Moreover, conflict events with the US and government effectiveness as other socio-political variables were statistically significant predictors that might affect global media attitudes towards the US (β = -0.111, p < 0.1, and β = -0.139, p < 0.1, respectively). This means that media reports from countries with more conflicts with the US or less effective governments tend to frame the US negatively about COVID-19.

Table 2 Multiple linear regression results on the tone value in global media reports

Overall, we found a statistically significant relationship between a country’s economic environment (e.g., GDP per capita), socio-political environment (e.g., global peace index, conflict events with the US, and government effectiveness), as well as cultural environment (e.g., cultural distance) and global news report attitudes towards the US regarding COVID-19. Interestingly, the predicator of confirmed COVID-19 cases in a country was not statistically significantly related to their media attitudes. Therefore, we can infer that even in the face of a global public health crisis, the coverage of the global media is still deeply influenced by the various economic, socio-political, and culture environments of different regions.


From the framing theory and related studies (e.g., Entman, 1993, 2007; D’Angelo, 2002; Reese, 2007; Vu et al., 2019; Woon, 2020), it is widely endorsed that almost all media reports have a subjective attitude and have a certain structural tendency, being framed into specific economic, socio-political, and cultural structures. From the perspective of geography, the media tendencies of a region are often closely related to its geographical environment. Specifically, influencing factors of a country’s media attitude are discussed as follows.

Economic Influence

In this study, we first examined the impact of a country’s economic environment on its media’s attitude towards the US about COVID-19. The analysis in our model shows that a country’s economic environment (here, GDP per capita is used to measure a country’s level of economic development) has a statistically significant negative correlation with national media attitude. That is, a country with a better economic environment tends to have a lower tone value to the US when reporting COVID-19, which means the more negative this country’s media would be. The possible reason for the negative correlation between these two variables is that countries with advanced economies have a higher responsibility to promote the international cooperation mechanism to seek solutions, and in this regard, these countries would tend to have more dissatisfaction with the US. Considering the international role of a global leader and the ‘irresponsible’ image the US has been presenting during the outbreak of COVID-19, such a correlation is understandable.

Specifically, as the virus continues to spread worldwide, it poses serious challenges to global public health management and economic and biosafety systems. Under such circumstances, the pandemic is no longer a crisis in specific countries but, as viewed by the World Health Organization (2020), a crisis that the whole world needs to face together. In the past few decades, the US has usually been the global leader to coordinate and lead a global cooperation mechanism to respond to a global urgent crisis. For example, when the 2008 financial crisis triggered a global economic recession, the US led the G20 to respond (Mawhinney, 2007). In 2014, the Ebola outbreak in Africa triggered a global public health crisis, and the US led the multilateral emergency response mechanism (Cooper, 2010). However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the US has not acted as the leader of the global multilateral cooperation mechanism. On the contrary, the Trump administration has had major disagreements with some major international institutions and countries in the world, including the World Health Organization, on the topic of pandemic prevention and control (Gostin et al., 2020). It indicates that the Trump administration is unwilling to serve the planet. Moreover, the US administration’s performance in this global pandemic prevention and control has undoubtedly caused dissatisfaction in the international community. Consequently, those countries with better economies and high responsibility in international cooperation mechanisms have far more dissatisfaction with the US when talking about COVID-19.

A phenomenon worth emphasising here is that although a country’s economic environment is overall negatively correlated with its media tone value towards the US, there are still some countries with average to low economic environments but whose media attitude is very negative to the US when reporting on COVID-19 pandemic. These include some countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Central America, and East Asia (see Table 1). This is definitely explicable. Generally, countries with relatively backward economies usually have worse health infrastructure, more severe shocks from the pandemic, weaker ability to solve problems, and higher dependence on international cooperation mechanisms. In this regard, when the economic level of some countries fell to a certain extent, their media attitudes began to show a reversal, instead of showing a trend that conforms to the overall correlation between these two variables. That means these underdeveloped countries would also exhibit greater dissatisfaction toward the US.

Socio-Political Influence

Moreover, we investigated the influence of a country’s socio-political environment on its media attitudes. Our model analysis shows that some indicators that measure a country’s socio-political environment have statistically significant negative correlations to the regional media’s attitude towards the US with regard to COVID-19 reports, including the indexes of global peace index, conflict events with the US, and government effectiveness. It demonstrates that news reports in a country with a worse peaceful environment (indexed by global peace index) or more efficient governance (indexed by government effectiveness) will have a more negative attitude towards the US when covering the pandemic situation. Similarly, the more conflicts between a country and the US are exposed in the global media, the more negative its media’s attitude towards the US will be.

The possible reason for the negative correlation between these three variables and global media attitudes towards the US is that countries facing unrest—either internal or external—often have poor accessibility to medical staff and humanitarians. Furthermore, these countries also have poor social management systems and higher numbers of people susceptible to the disease; therefore, their media would tend to be more dissatisfied with actors, especially international ones, who disrupt social order. Similarly, a country with a more efficient government usually has more ways to solve problems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, from the scientific perspective of national governance, such countries would have a more negative attitude towards others that respond to and manage the pandemic situation inefficiently. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Trump administration of the US played the role of such a disruptor, precisely and exhibited poor governance. Specifically, the US has not played a role in maintaining order in the outbreak of COVID-19, rather, it has played a role in disrupting order. Besides the poor leadership exhibited by the US in the international arena as discussed above, the Trump administration has also promoted nationalist and racist values during the pandemic. The adjustment of the US’s immigration policy triggered by COVID-19 has intensified racial conflicts in American society and the international community (Ladkin, 2020). These policies affected the entire international community, brought about a chain reaction in the world, and exacerbated the geopolitical friction between countries. The US’s actions during the pandemic have undoubtedly disrupted the humanitarian assistance programmes of countries around the world, especially in countries with relatively low-peace environments, and made the global crisis management more complicated by inhibiting cooperation, which has caused these countries to face more difficult biological security challenges.

Another socio-political variable, conflict events with the US, has a correlation with the global media’s attitude mainly reflected in how the media in a country produces its public geopolitical imagination about the US: The more a country’s mass media reports on conflicts with the US, the tenser would be this country’s geopolitical relationship with the US. Such geopolitical knowledge production would undoubtedly contextualise a country’s media understanding of the US when reporting the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, this connection has already been repeatedly emphasised in critical geopolitical studies. Several political geographers have observed the ways in which a country applies popular knowledge production to build the international image of its geopolitical competitors, through daily channels like magazines, movies, video games, and the internet (An, 2020; Dodds, 2005; Sharp, 2000; Shaw, 2010). Based on the understanding of the unparalleled influence of the public media on the production of geopolitical knowledge, it becomes quite easy for us to understand the relationship between a country’s conflict events with the US and its media attitude towards the US. The factor that needs emphasis here is that this kind of geopolitically contextualised knowledge production may not only play a role in the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic but may also be reflected in a country’s media coverage of other aspects.

Cultural Influence

For the influence of a country’s cultural environment on its media attitudes, our model analysis shows that one of the two cultural variables selected in this study is statistically, significantly related to the global news reports’ attitude towards the US. This significant variable is a country’s cultural distance from the US (β = -0.0119, p < 0.05), which describes the cultural differences between a country and the US, and the degree of such cultural differences. Relatively speaking, this indicator can better represent the cultural context of a country and therefore quantify its difference from the US in the cultural dimension. The data shows that: the greater a country’s cultural distance from the US, the more negative this country’s coverage of the US is when reporting on the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This correlation confirms the complex cultural background behind the policies and discourses that countries have displayed in the process of responding to this common public health crisis. Further, at the policy level, the pandemic prevention policies formulated by countries with different cultural backgrounds are very different. For example, China’s anti-pandemic policy is very ‘strict’; all citizens are required to stay at home, and strict quarantine measures have been implemented on individual, home, community, urban and regional scales; in addition, all citizens are required to wear masks in any place (Brinks & Ibert, 2020). In stark contrast is the ‘leniency’ in the US: the implementation of measures such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing has not been smooth in the country; furthermore, the government has not taken strict measures to implement these effective prevention and control measures (Tikkanen et al., 2020). Most other countries have adopted these two different prevention and control strategies, or other methods that vary between ‘tightness’ and ‘looseness’. The differences in these prevention and control measures reflect the cultural differences of different countries. For example, China’s ‘tightness’ is a representation of its collectivism and self-discipline culture, while the US’s, ‘looseness’ is a manifestation of its individualistic values. Secondly, based on the different pandemic prevention strategies adopted by countries with different cultural backgrounds, the cultural environment of a country would make its society and media, have a very different understanding of the pandemic prevention policies of other countries. Consequently, the greater the cultural difference between countries, the higher the deviation in the understanding of a country’s pandemic prevention policies and behaviour, and the more likely the reporting country is to express negative attitudes about the countries they are culturally different from in news reports. In this regard, countries that have a culture similar to that of the US—such as Australia—can understand and support the country better; therefore, their media reports are relatively positive. Similarly, the greater the cultural gap with the US, the more negative its media’s views on the country.

Pandemic Severity Influence

Surprisingly, the variable of a country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases does not have a statistically significant correlation with the global news reports’ attitudes towards the US. This shows that a country’s pandemic severity does not affect their attitude towards the US when reporting on this pandemic. Globalization involves many aspects, and it leads to more diversified and complicated relations between countries; therefore, the severity of COVID-19 in a country may only be one of the uncertain affecting factors in its perception of other countries. This is because in an era of high globalisation, countries are highly connected to each other. Such multi-dimensional connections may be economic, political, or cultural and the influences could be positive or negative. Hence, the severity of COVID-19 in a country may make the country more sympathetic to the US, or not. The actual response is, however, more complex and diverse, than a linear relationship.


Overall, we can find that the national differences reflected in the global media’s attitudes towards the US regarding COVID-19 are obviously related to the economic, socio-political, and cultural backgrounds of various countries globally. A country’s attitude towards other countries is often structural. This attitude, deeply embedded in a specific social background, is not influenced by urgent global events such as the outbreak of COVID-19. Therefore, most of the economic, socio-political, and cultural variables in this article have significant correlations in our model analysis, while the variables of pandemic severity do not show significant correlations, which further confirms the regional subjectivity and internal logic of global media reports.

This study also highlights the urgent need of an interdisciplinary geo-political examination of COVID-19 in a global context. It is still an area that has seen insufficient interest from the interdisciplinary perspective beyond epidemiology, such as geo-political, international relations, media studies, and geography. Research in these areas can prove to be of great value for the promotion of an effective international cooperation mechanism to curb the spread of COVID-19. From the main findings of this paper, we can confirm that the mapping of a country’s image by other countries with regard to COVID-19 does never depend on COVID-19 itself, but on the inherent geopolitical, economic, social, and cultural patterns of the world itself, which also means that the essence of establishing a global cooperation mechanism to stop COVID-19 is to break the inherent geopolitical boundaries rather than focusing on the evolution of COVID-19. More specifically, despite the global media reports on such a common global public health crisis being universal, it is very difficult for such discourses to escape the inherent socio-economic and political context of each society. To some extent, these discourses are solidified and structured, and are often affected by various structural factors. At the time of organising this article, the world is still in a deep crisis of such an outbreak, but this pandemic does not seem to have spawned a mechanism for global cooperation like other past major public crises (Mawhinney, 2007; Cooper, 2010; Kentikelenis et al., 2015). In contrast, the global cooperation in pandemic prevention is still struggling, and the relevant COVID-19 discourse is even hijacked by geopolitical discourses. In order to achieve the goal of eliminating COVID-19 promptly, all countries, governments, and the public in the world, we advocate, that we must clarify the deviations in the production of public knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic, and its inherent reasons as discovered in this study, and strive to eliminate these imaginary barriers.


In this study, we calculated the tone values of global news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic within 228 countries and found that there are significant differences in the ways in which the media from various countries look at a specific country (such as the US) when reporting on this issue. More importantly, through the model analysis we also found that this difference in global media landscape on the COVID-19 pandemic is embedded into the profound economic, socio-political, and cultural contexts of different countries that were significantly reflected in the variables of GDP per capita, global peace index; conflict events with the US, government effectiveness and; cultural distance in this paper. In fact, along with the swift growth of global information penetration, researchers of global media have seen an apparent tendency of news media to transcend national boundaries to align with consistent global agendas, especially on global issues like COVID-19. However, as the results of this research display, the current global practices are still deeply rooted in local contexts, whether at the micro-individual level or at the macro-regional level. On the one hand, findings of this study reinforced the hypothetical assumption advocated by framing theorists who suggested that differences in media practices remain as dependent variables of a country or a society’s wider economic, socio-political and cultural systems. On the other hand, findings of this study also promoted a measurable and upscaled framing theory by borrowing this theory from micro-individual media case study into macro (e.g., geography) studies as well as an introduction of a quantifiable approach that can measure how media reports’ frame works.

The limitations of this study need to be discussed as well. This study only investigates the regional differences of global media discourse on the national level, while ignoring the intensity of the global media landscape. In fact, in the database we observe, the number of media sources in different countries also varies significantly. The more news organizations or companies in a country, the higher the number of news reports. Further, a country’s attitude of media is sensitive to the number of news reports. Among them, countries with more data sources have as many as 800,000 items, while countries with fewer data sources have only a few dozen. A country with fewer news organizations is more easily affected by a single news report with extreme attitude. To a certain extent, the media intensity also reflects the imbalance of global media discourse, which is also of high value to understand the imbalance of global public knowledge production. Subsequent examinations of similar topics should consider taking such factors as the exploration of geographies of global media differences into account. In addition, perceptions of the spread and impact of COVID-19 change over time, and time is an important factor. It is necessary to reveal the dynamic trend of media’s attitude and its spatial–temporal pattern. Dynamic variables should also be included in the model to explain the temporal change of media’s attitude.