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Explain the concept of 'Moral Panics' and examine the claim that the media generate panics through news reports of deviant behaviour.

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Introduction

5. Explain the concept of 'Moral Panics' and examine the claim that the media generate panics through news reports of deviant behaviour. A moral panic is said to occur when the media mobilises public opinion around the condemnation of deviance ("Media coverage of deviance: moral panics", lecture handout, 07-10-02). Deviance, in this context, refers to the violation of social norms and values, and the subsequent disruption of social order. This essay will begin with a clarification of the terms 'moral panic' and 'deviance' and outline how the two concepts are related. It will then describe the processes of news reporting while making reference to Stanley Cohen's established case study of the 1964 Bank Holiday fracas in Clacton, England as an example of such a media-fuelled moral panic. As briefly mentioned in the introduction, deviance occurs when people behave in a manner that is contrary to established social norms. In general, people are taught or conditioned to conduct themselves in a 'socially acceptable' manner, and theoretically, this management of peoples' behaviour ensures social cohesion and order. However, a number of questions are raised when one considers 'normal' social behaviour. For example, what is and is not socially acceptable? Who decides what is and is not acceptable? ...read more.

Middle

Unfortunately, important news is often structured around such criteria, sometimes at the expense of comprehensive and balanced reporting. If, for example, an article was to be written about a recent claim lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal, the historical context of the claim might be neglected to ensure the piece could be easily understood by readers and published expediently. Public reaction to previously published news items is also an influencing factor in the selection of news. For example, if a news item on crime rates generates a public outcry, similar news items are more likely to be selected due to the heightened interest. The particular subject of crime incidence may receive prolonged and intensive coverage and as more such events are selected, the more frequent and threatening they will appear to be. "The fear that a major problem is emerging is consequently reinforced and perpetuated; and the total picture of crime may thereby be gravely distorted" (Kelsey and Young, 1982, pp.9-10). In such a case, the beginnings of a moral panic about crime rates can be seen. The third and final stage of Kelsey and Young's news production analysis details the presentation of the selected news. As news (the press, in particular) ...read more.

Conclusion

And instead of functioning as a source of factual information, the media became an instrument through which rumours and subjective accounts of the events could reach a wider audience, thus consolidating the sense of social unease. So, as seen in Cohen's study of the Mods and Rockers moral panic, the media selects issues of deviance for news reports, largely because the public interest is aroused by the abnormal or unusual. However, in a number of these cases, where the news reports generate a public condemnation of that deviance, the media may (consciously or not) generate a moral panic. As Kelsey and Young's (1982) study noted though, the media is not independently responsible or accountable for the generation of a moral panic as the selection and presentation of news is heavily influenced by public demand. Thus, the responsibility for the generation of moral panics should be shared. While the media should in such cases strive to maintain a sense of journalistic honesty and integrity, rather than being completely motivated by financial incentives and the public demand for scandal, the public should also appreciate a range of value systems exist and that opinion regarding deviance is not universal. The public should also be aware that the media supplies them with the material they seemingly want and accommodates for what it believes is a social consensus of values. ...read more.

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