Access to paid family and medical leave (“paid leave”) has bipartisan support among lawmakers in the United States, but the issue remains stalled on the public policy agenda. The U.S. does not currently have a federal paid leave policy, and unpaid leave—guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993—is all that is available to the majority of workers. In this study, we examine the content of local television news as representations of, and potential influence on, paid leave policy agendas. To do so, we analyze the extent to which local television news coverage describes the problem of lack of employment leave, and whether coverage highlights public policy as a solution. We use data from local television stations affiliated with the four major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX) in all 210 media markets in the U.S. during a period pre-pandemic, from October 2018 until July 2019. We find that 64% of local television news coverage related to paid leave discussed the issue in the context of public policy. Coverage more often cited early-stage policy actions such as a policy idea - reflected in 40% of stories discussing stages of public policymaking – or the introduction of a bill – detailed in 22% of these stories. This coverage aligns with actual policy activity at the state-level during the same time period. News coverage infrequently included elements that could shape public understanding of paid leave as a population health issue, such as including health-related sources of providers or researchers. Policymakers, advocates, and researchers looking to advance public support for paid leave should consider efforts to use local television news as a vehicle to present health and policy-relevant information to broad segments of the public and set the agenda for policy reform.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this work was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation , grant ID 75347 .
- Health equity
- Local television news
- Paid family leave