some believe that the news gives an accurate & impartial reflection of events however, research evidence shows different:

from looking at how the news is constructed & presented, it showed that the news media not only select certain events as newsworthy, but also place particular interpretations on those events

From this point of view - the media constructs news rather than mirror the world

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1960's-70's some influential studies examined the role of the media in producing MORAL PANICS - studies influenced by interactionist theory & were particularly concerned with the way the media portrayed youth subcultures

COHEN (1972) - 

  • looked at media coverage of the activities of two youth subcultures - mods & rockers
  • on easter bank holiday 1964, large numbers of these groups went to Clacton for the day
  • Cohen was interested in how the media reported their behaviour & the consequences of this reporting
  • media presented a picture of two rival gangs. fighting, vandalising and anti-social behaviour were reported as widespread and those responsibile were identified as mods & rockers
  • Cohen however found little evidence of serious violence & vandalism  - in most cases the groups stayed apart
  • therefore the media had presented a distorted & sensationalised picture of events
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  • this media picture created public fear about mods & rockers
  • police followed by increasing their presence, making more arrests
  • the young people resented this heavy handed/injust police behaviour & were more likely to become mods & rockers in rebellion
  • further violence was created 'secondary deviance' - followed by more sensationalised reporting & increased police activity
  • became labelled as folk devils
  • This increase in deviance due to media publicity is defined as 'Deviancy Amplification' 

COHEN argued that the reaction of the media created a 'MORAL PANIC' - 'a condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values & interests'

  • argues that the media & public look for someone to blame, a 'scapegoat'
  • these groups are often powerless and young
  • the effect of a moral panic is to draw people together against the threat - restoring concensus & stability within society
  • Example: HALL - argues 1970's saw a crisis of capitalism, deep sociol/economic problems such as unemplyment, inflation & riots
  • moral panic was created against 'black muggers' as a scapegoat - serving the dual purpose of dividing the working class along racial lines & encouraging public support/faith in the law
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Young people continue to be the focus of moral panics

behaviour has frequently been identified as a problem

  • E.g. youth subcultures such as hippies, skinheads, punks and behaviour associated with young people such as street crime & drug taking

More recently, young people are occationally being seen as the victims

  • CRITCHER (2003) - argues that moral panics increasingly are focusing on threats to children.
  • concern over child abuse, paedophilia and influence of violent films on young views etc.
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- tryed to define moral panic precisely, argue that moral panics have 5 features:

  • increasing public concern over the behaviour of a certain group
  • increased hostility towards the group
  • certain level of public agreement that there is a real threat & that its caused by the group
  • public concern is out of proportion to the real harm caused by group
  • Moral panics appear & disappear very quickly
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CRITCHER (2003) - examined five case studies - AIDS, ecstacy and raves, video 'nasties', child abuse, and paedophilia

In his view, only 2 of these cases were full moral panics (video 'nasties' & paedophilia) - in these cases he found that:                                                                                                                                                          1) an issue was seen as a threat                                                                                                                      2) the media defined the 'problem' in the same way                                                                                          3) organised groups generally supported the panic                                                                                          4) the state eventually responded by bringing in new legislation to combat the threat

Critcher critices that moral panics are always triggered by folk devils - instead in his cases concern was triggered by the death of children or young people -  Critcher sees these events as reflecting major social problems

Critcher argues that 'consensus' is needed for a moral panic to develop - E.g. newspapers tried to create moral panic over AIDS as a 'gay plague' but were unsuccessful as experts challenged the view

Also criticises BEN & YEHUDA for saying moral panics dissappear quickly - e.g. moral panic for drugs has continued over past 40 yrs; if they do go away often come back

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