Crime and Deviance - Assess sociological explanations of the role of the media in creating moral panics about crime and deviance [21 Marks]

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Read Item A Below and answer the question that follows.

Item A;

The news media are one of our main sources of knowledge about crime and deviance. Often the media will create a moral panic surrounding crimes and criminals or deviants.

Moral panics can lead to a range of responses by the public, by agents of social control and by the criminals or deviants themselves. Over-representation of certain types of crimes may lead to heightened fear of these crimes by the public. In some cases, moral panics may also result in a change in the law.

01 - Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess sociological explanations of the role of the mass media in creating moral panics about crime and deviance. [21 marks]

The Media are often the subject of claims that they cause crime and deviance through their devotion to exaggerating the truth in order to have a “newsworthy” story. Often it is the case that the media will play an important role in what Durkheim would say is maintaining the boundaries of society, reaffirming what is socially acceptable, and what is not. Durkheim would also say that all change starts with deviance, and the media highlighting this deviance on the world stage helps to excite and increase the rate of social change, which as suggested in the item, can lead to changes in law. Examples of this have been seen with public displays of homosexuality in countries where homosexual marriage is illegal, or disallowed. This kind of deviance is picked up by the media, and projected on a world stage in the name of news, and appeals to the world’s sense of equality and liberalism. So, while Functionalists would say the news plays an important function in society as a tool to catalyst social change, others would argue that it actually victimises a lot of people. 

This is seen with Cohen’s work on Folk Devils and Moral panics, in which a person with new norms, values or morals- or even all three, comes along and challenges societies accepted ones. This kind of challenge is met harshly and the new group, or person, is outcasted. They’re cut off from society as a folk devil and victimised for being different. This was seen in the study of the Drug Takers by Jock Young. The Hippies he undertook a participant observation with were using drugs as a peripheral activity, in which nobody was being hurt and nobody was using them too often. The media picked up this criminal…


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