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The Role of Media in Moral Panics

Discuss about the Dictionary of Media and Communication.

Moral panic can be best defined as a feeling of fear which is spread amongst a high number of people, which at times, threatens the very wellbeing of the entire society. It is deemed ass a process where a social concern is raised on an issue through the mass media or the so called moral entrepreneurs. The media is particularly deemed as a major player when it comes to the dissemination of the moral resentment and this is true for even such cases where they fail to appear as being engaged in a conscious manner in muckraking or in crusading (Watson & Hill, 2012). In the following parts, a discussion has been carried where the role played by the media in the moral panics is elucidated. The thesis statement is that media overplays its role when it comes to the moral panics. And in this regard, the discussion would cover the key points which were made by Stanley Cohen, as he is deemed as a key author in this regard. Also, the discussion would discuss how the media can over play their role by transiting from reporting to being a judge. 

As per Cohen (2011), the society is, every now and then, faced with periods of moral panic. This is in terms of an episode, a condition, a single person or a group of people being deemed as a threat to the values and interests of the society. The nature of moral is presented in a stereotypical and in a stylised fashion through the mass media, the editors, politicians, bishops and the “right thinking people” guard the moral barricades and after the socially accredited experts pronounce the solutions pursuant to diagnosis, a way of coping is evolved. Cohen has presented the argument, which is aligned with that of Durkheim, that the ‘folk devils’ created the moral panics in the society, particularly when the society faces anxiety or crisis time and this is done for reasserting the dominant values. Cohen (2011) has argued, like Durkheim, that when the society goes through the time of crisis and anxiety, in order to reassert the dominant values, the moral panics led to the creation of folk devils. The presence of the moral panics takes place only when the responses are deemed to be outside the purview and where a threat or danger is posed. And in stirring up such concerns, the media not only played a central role, but also amplified the problem. And the media got so much power that a single minute issue could result in a major hysteria, particularly when it served the interests of a specific group of people, who were concerned regarding a particular social issue, for instance, the crime for the teenagers getting out of control (Macionis & Plummer, 2008).

Examples of Moral Panics

The study undertaken by Cohen was so influential, that it led to the identification of a number of folk devils and moral panics. There have been a number of concerns raised by the media with regards to child abuse, AIDS, rapists, drugs, baby battering, mugging, blacks, religions, cults, serial killers, pornography, welfare cheats, militant trade unionism, paedophiles, ritual abuses and religious cults. At times, the main issue before such incidents was identified to being very significant, but in the majority of the other cases, the hysteria created on such issue, was simply blown out of proportion. The example of this has been highlighted by Jenkins (1992), where he stated that even though there were a lot of concerns when it came to serial killers, it had to be regarded that such cases were very rare and the same had low rate in the past hundred years. In order to understand how the moral panic actually works, there is a need to take into consideration how the particular media, i.e., the television and the newspapers identify the issue as a problem, the manner in which it is presented to the audience and the manner in which such an “issue” could fit into a specific set of social worries or anxieties. And a number of moral panics are depicted as being a serious threat towards the very basic traditional moral values which are related to the family life. An example of this can be seen in AIDS, which first appeared in the initial parts of 1980s. AIDS was dealt with in a very sensational manner, where it was shown to be a gruesome threat to the traditional sexuality (Macionis & Plummer, 2008).

It has also been argued by Cohen that the portrayal of events by the media shows a deviant amplification which spirals the issue from out of hand and just spreads the problem. This has led to marginalisation and stigmatisation of the mods and rockers as less tolerant and deviants. The reporting of media in 1960s of the two English youth sub cultures that joined the movements which were named as Mods and Rockers. The gags used to move in their own manner for representing their genre in the public and the media. In order to establish the desire of freedom from the traditional norms, these groups were determined on causing hindrance. The gang war of Mods and Rockers were covered in the media in 1964 in the south coast seaside resorts and this raised eyebrows on the role played by the media. The whole issue was hyped and was also reported in a very negative manner, which led to the whole issue being blown out of proportion and caused the public to be very conscious. The media showed dramatic visuals on the television which showed a lot of violence and showed mugging and breaking of the chemist shops. This resulted in mass panic and created hysteria amongst the general public. This led to the government feeling the overwhelmed and had to deploy a lot of police force to satisfy and calm the general public (Kerry-Ward, 2009). Morely and Kuan-Hsing (2005) quoted Hall’s work, as he described this as a ‘hegemonic crisis’ due to the struggle between the populist and popular articulations, which caused a lot of resistance between the power bloc and the people.

Amplification of Issues by Media

Australia, as a nation, prides itself on being a multicultural nation. And yet, it has had to face a number of issues when it comes to moral panic and the role of media. It has been argued by Martin (2015) that the national identity of Australia is deeply rooted in certain set of people and this has resulted in anxieties towards the fear of “Asian Invasion”. This is particularly because of the moral panic created against the asylum seekers, particularly against the Muslim-terrorist-refugee issue, which is construed as a transnational folk devil (Martin, 2015). The role of media in this ‘folk devil’ can be elucidated through the report of October 2006 which featured in The Australian. In this report, it was reported that the drivers declared jihad on duty fee, and refused to carry such passengers who carried with them alcohol. The story was related to the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, which was serviced by 900 taxi drivers, and in which around three quarter people were Somali Muslims. The story being genuine could not be assessed easily. As per a spokesman of the airport, the refusal stemmed from the growth in the customer service issues. And on the other hand of this, the statistics of the airport commission highlighted that from 120,000 taxi rides taken from the airport during the past two months, around 0.02%, i.e., only 27 rides were refused. The story which published was taken in isolation, against a particular group of people, who are already perceived as a “threat”. And yet, the newspaper failed to report the bullet which was fired in the mosque of Perth where 400 people were worshipping, which missed the children and women narrowly. This story was not only sensational but also local and the failure of the newspaper in reporting the mosque shooting showed the over-play of the role media and even the one sided view it works to present before the audience. And this shows that the Australian, did not work as an unbiased media, and instead contributed in the moral panic and folk devil (Aly, 2011).

Thus, it can be effectively summarized that when it comes to the media, they play an over amplified role their reporting and majorly contribute towards the moral panic. The perception which is present between the people, particularly something which is wrong, is shown in a manner which proves the same as being true and even intensifies the entire situation. This has been happening since the media came into being and the case of Mods and Rockers, which took place in 1960s, is just an example of the overplayed role of the media and the contribution of it towards the moral panic. The reporting of the entire Muslim taxi driver incident by the Australian is another example, particularly when it reported an issue which took out of the nation and failed to report the incident which followed, where actually people were injured, just because the second one did not match up to the perception which was a common aspect in Australia. Thus, the thesis statement has been established through the discussion in an absolute manner.

References

Aly, W. (2011). Best of 2011: Muslims, myths and moral panic. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/10/06/3334026.htm

Cohen, S. (2011). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (3rd ed.). Oxon: Routledge, 1.

Jenkins, P. (1992). A “Murder Wave”? Trends in American Serial Homicide 1940-1990. Criminal Justice Review, 17, 1-19.

Kerry-Ward, A. (2009). The 20th Century and Then What?: A Philosophical View of Life. UK: Troubador Publishing Ltd, 98.

Macionis, J.J., & Plummer, K. (2008). Sociology: A Global Introduction (4th ed.). England: Pearson Education Limited, 723.

Martin, G. (2015). Stop the boats! Moral panic in Australia over asylum seekers. Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 29(3), 304.

Morely, D., & Kuan-Hsing, C. (2005). Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 163.

Watson, J., & Hill, A. (2012). Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies (8th ed.). New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 186.

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