Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Health Crisis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: A Study of Saudis' Knowledge of Coronavirus, Attitudes toward the Ministry of Health's Coronavirus Preventive Campaigns, and Trust in Coronavirus Messages in the Media

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Terry Rentner (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Per Broman (Other)


As of September 2017, more than 600 people died in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) since the Coronavirus outbreak in 2012. The Ministry of Health (MOH), in cooperation with international health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), launched a public health campaign to increase awareness of preventive measures. Initial responses from this campaign left people confused by the mixed messages disseminated and led to distrust of the MOH and its website, the primary source for communication to the public. A new minister launched a comprehensive campaign that incorporated key messages, trustworthy sources, and specific actions.

The purpose of the study was to explore whether the MOH in Saudi Arabia has implemented best public relations practices during a major health crisis or not. The study adapted Champion's Health Belief Model (HBM) and Meyer's Media Credibility Scale to formulate an online survey of 875 students from King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia administered in summer 2016. The survey addressed HBM preventive behaviors, effectiveness of the We Can Stop It campaign on behavioral changes, and the credibility of Coronavirus messages.

Results show that Saudis with higher susceptibility, severity, cues to actions, and self-efficacy scores are more likely to adhere to the MOH's Coronavirus preventive measures than those with lower scores. Respondents with high perceived barriers are less likely to adhere to Coronavirus preventive measures. The MOH's website is the most credible source of Coronavirus information followed by the WHO and MOH's Twitter account. Internet search engines followed by the MOH's communication channels, like their website, Twitter, and Facebook, are the first places Saudis visit when seeking Coronavirus information.

The increasing adherent practices of the MOH's Coronavirus preventive measures, like washing hands frequently, show how the MOH was successful of regaining trust through effective communication strategies and health interventions. Nonetheless, some Coronavirus preventive measures, such as following a healthy and balanced diet, have not been adopted by the Saudi people.

Principles of crisis communication and Grunig's two-way communication model served as foundations for comparing and contrasting its current "We Can Stop It" campaign. Lessons learned and recommendations are provided.