Topic 4C

The role of the mass media in the social construct of crime

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  • Created on: 30-04-15 13:55


Interactionalists and neo marxists beleive the socal reation to crime and deviance is a central element in the study of criminology.

Sociologists are keen to theoris the causes of social reactions ajnd may attribute a close connection between the extent and nature of media coverage of particular criminal or deviant acts and the social reaction to them. They argue that most peoples perceptions of crime are actually created or at least informed by the media.

What labbelling theory allerts us to is the way in which the whole area of crime is dependent upon social constructions of reality, law creation, enforment and the identities of rule breakers are all thrown into question. A key ellement of all three of these processes is composed by the mass media as most peoples perceptions of crime are actually created or at least informed by the media.

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Crime in the meida

  • The media tend to focus on violent and sexual crimes. Reiner- aruges this is particularaly the case in T.V and tabloid papers coverage of crime.
  • Carrabine- argues that crime news "focuses on dramatic events" rather than the causes of crime. However he adds papers like the guardian so sometimes analyse the causes of crime in depth.
  • The news media portray the criminal justice system in a generally positive light. Where police do wrongdoing is exposed it is blamed on a few bad individuals rather than the force as a whole. This has changed however since the case of stephen laurence where institutional racism was identified in the police servive.
  • Carrabine argues- reality tv programs i.e police, camera, action focus on cctv footage and highlight crime as a regular and routine aspect of daily life. The veiwer is adressed as a threatened consumer who must take responsibility for crime prevention.
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Explaining media representations of crime

During their socialisation journalists internalise "news values" the factors that detinine what everyday events are worth coverage.

Chibnall (1977) identifies 4 factors that make a "good story"

  • Novelty, freshness and surprise
  • Drama and exitment
  • Titalation
  • A focus on personalities

Its no surpires that violent and sexual crimes dominate media coverage of crime. And that offenders and victims are often well known personalities.

The police and courts are the main source of crime news. Hall- argues that this meains that media coverage of crime tends to reflect the concerns of the powerful his work on mugging reflects this argument and is important here.

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Effects of media representations of crime

Effects of the media's representation of crime

Data from the CSEW shows that many respondants belived that the crime rate was rising when it has actually decreased. Tabloid papers are more likely to report violent and sexual crimes so its not surprising that tabloid readers are more concerned about these kinds of crime although they only make up a small proportion of it.


Left realists such as Young- argue that the media representation of crime reflects public concerns. The tabloids are often read by working class people and working class people often live in inner city areas and social housing where there are problems of violent crime. Perhaps tabloid journalists and T.V programme makes are just reflecting the reality of life for many wc people.

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Key study: Cohen- folk devils and moral panics

Deviancy amplification

  • A number of sociologists who don't share the same theoretical perspective as the interactionalists have also focussed on societal reaction. The following study looks at societal reaction to mods and rockers in the mid 1960's.
  • Mods and rockers are youth groups who differed from eachother in terms of dress, musical tastes and modes of transport i.e mods scooters nd rockers motorbikes. Cohens study looked at societal reaction to disturbances involving mods and rockers which took place in clacton over the Easter bank holidays in 1964.
  • The mass media represented these disturbances as a conformation between rival gangs "hell bent on destruction". However on inspection he discovered that the amount of serious violence and vandalism was not great and that most young people who'd gone to the seaside that wekend didn't identify with either mods or rockers. The mass media had produced a distorted picture of what went on.
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Deviancy amplification spiral

Media coverage lead to considerable public concern with mods and rockers setting in motion the deviancy amplification spiral. Sensitised to the "problem" the police made more arrests the media reported more deviancy and young people were more likely to identify with either mods or rockers. Further disturbances followed on subsequent bank holidays attracting more police attention, more arrests, increased media interest and more young people reacting to what they saw as heavy hnded and unjustified treatemnt by the police.

the reaction to the initial disturbances over the easter bank holiday not only exagerated the amount of deviance but generated more.

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Moral Panics

Cohen claimed that the reaction of the media to events in Claction generated a moral panic. A moral panic occurs when a 'condition, episode person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests'.

In the above case, mods and rockers were singled out as 'folk devils' whose behaviour constituted a threat to societal values and interests. In the aboce case mods and rockers were singled out as folk devils whose behaviour constituted a threat to the social order, the 1960's were a decade of widespread social change in which cherished norms were challenged.

The mods and rockers served as a symbal of what was "was wrong with society" in subsequent decades young people continued to be the focus of moral panics with black muggers in the 1970's football hooligans in the 80's and hoodies in the 2000's.

more recently moral panics have focused on threats to children and pheodophilia and the infulence of violent films on young veiwers. The medias reaction to deviance may lead to a deviancy amplification spiral a moral panic and more authoritarian forms of contol.

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stages of a moral panic

  • stage 1- tabloid focuses on a spesific group using exagerated language and headlines
  • stage 2- follow up article define the group as a 'social problem' They are deamonised as folk devils. and focus on dress and behaviour which helps the general public identify them easily.
  • stage3- the media oversimplifies the reasons why the group or activity has apeared e.g young people out of control, no respect for authority, decline in morality
  • Stage4- Moral entrepreures i.e politicians, religeous leaders react to media reports and make statements condeming the group or activity they insist that the police, courts and goverment take action against them.
  • Stage 5- The reporting of incidents to the police rises as the group becomes more visable to public conciousness
  • Stage 6- The authorities stamp down hard on the group or activity, this may take the form od the police stoping and searching and arresting those associated with the activity, the courts severely pnishing those convicted of the activity or the goverment bringing in new laws to control the activity and group. Other institiutions e.g shopping centers may ban the group or activity.
  • Stage 7- group may react to the moral panic overpolicing and become more deviant in protest or the activity may become more underground and harder to police.
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Stages of moral panic 2

Stage 8- more arrests and convictions results from the moral panic and the statistics are reported by the media thereby rufilling the initial media prophecy or prediction that the group or activity were a social problem.

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key study 2 Fawbert- Hoodies

  • Examined newspaper reports about so called hoodies between 2004 and 2008 and notes that there was only one article in the national papers in 2004 that used the work "hoodie" when describing a young thug however a year later the
  • BlueWater shopping center caused outrage by panning its shoppers from sporting hoodies and baseball caps.
  • Followed by Tony Blair vowing to "clamp down" on anti social behaviour perpetrated by hoodies.
  • The media seezed onto the term hoodies and it became a commonly used term between 2005 and 2007 to describe young people involved in crime. However he notes that articles would often use the term in the headline but there would be no reference in the story about whether the young criminal was actually wearing one it was just presumed. Hoodies suddenly became a symbal of mischeif and sales of the clothing began to soar as young people realised by weaing them they upest authority.
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Key study 2 Fwbert hoodies: evlauation of moral pa

  • There is evidence that societal reaction can amplify deviance and theres evidence that this reaction can reach the level of a moral panic. When it reaches this level, is it out of proportion to the situation. Is it over the top?
  • But who's to say that this so called moral panic is unreasonable?
  • Jock young- criticises the concept of moral panic as it implies that crime is in large pat constrcuted by the media and he accepts that the madia may exagerate the"crime problem" but does not create it. He argues that the reality of crime and the human suffering it produces must be taken seriously and not reduced to a media construction.
  • Critics of moral panic theory argue that due to the differentiated nature of the modern media and the media savvy nature of people today means it can no longer explain societal reactions to crime and deviance. Mc Robbie and thornton- argue becaue moral panics are so frequent they are loosing their impact and that in our evermore pluristic and complex society its less easy to create agreement over who are "folk devils" Therefor folk devils are now often contested. They also sugget that pressure groups and institutions such as the police who aim to generate more moral panics for their own ends are less successfull now in convincing media editors to launch them, the media say they will no longer uncritically and reflexevly.
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Evaluation of moral panics 2

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