Photo:  Tony Fischer Photography
Photo: Tony Fischer Photography

By Chloe Anderson-Dixon

Now-a-days, as soon as you turn on the news, we are never short of a shocking scandal involving gangs of youths, kidnappings and assault. BREAKING NEWS: RISING GANG VIOLENCE SPARKS 80% OF OUR CRIME.

With these headlines popping up here, there and everywhere, stereotypes are gradually formed. If we walk past a young adult with his hood up, we immediately clutch our bags in terror of being mugged. However, is every single youth of today really that dangerous, or are the media creating a moral panic to make us believe so? It can be said that the media sensationalises crime, so as to create moral panic. This is used to control the way in which the public behave.

The dangers of creating these moral panics are that they are continuously exaggerated and distorted by the media, which results in public concern constantly heightening. The media causes us to form stereotypes and symbols concerning particular incidents, and a result we start to associate certain social groups with particular activities, such as gang violence and terrorism.

For example, when we think about seeing large groups of youths these days hanging around on street corners, we immediately assume they are dangerous and veer away from that isolated lane you were about to walk down and decide to keep to the busy street. Even though we often see in the news that large gangs do often create violence, it surely is unfair for us to believe that every group of teenagers we see is about to start World War Three in the middle of the street.

This constitutes the public view of social typing rule-breakers as threatening and dangerous. Therefore, they receive discriminatory and unwarranted attention from the Criminal Justice System; they are singled out, hassled, wrongfully arrested and heavily sentenced. This moral panic in fact makes it more likely that the young deviant will construct this identity that has been attached to them by the media and our society, which tends to result in more crime.

We have also seen, in recent news the panic of child abuse, kidnapping and paedophilia. The media have a regular supply of abuse and murder cases which generate sensationalist reporting. Only last year, the body of Jo Yates discovered in Clifton, Bristol, and when the investigation came to a close the man responsible was revealed as living on the next street to her.

We also witnessed the Soham murders of 2002, in which two young girls were kidnapped, abused and murdered. The school caretaker was the culprit.  Statistics show that children and young adults are more in danger from immediate family members or acquaintances who perpetrate the vast majority of kidnapping and abuse. The media created this moral panic that children were no longer safe, and they needed to be supervised 24/7. This then resulted in a ‘name and shame’ campaign launched against paedophiles which resulted in vigilante mobs taking to the streets and terrorizing innocent citizens who unfortunately shared the same name or a resemblance to a known sex offender. Surely, panic like this is going to cause our society to decline rather than strengthen and regulate it?

Terrorism has also created a moral panic within our society, in particular the implication of Islam in terrorist attacks.  BREAKING NEWS: ISLAMIC TERROR DRIVES CHRISTIANS OUT OF MALI; MAN CHARGED WITH PLOTTING TERROR CAMPAIGN IN THE NAME OF ISLAM; POLICE ARREST SUSPECT ISLAMIC TERRORIST.

With headlines like these being thrown at us from every angle, it causes society to associate the Islamic religion with terrorism. The media scares us into thinking our country and lives are under attack by this religion full stop. This has seen an uprising in racial abuse within our nation towards Muslims, and rapid decline within our society is only to be expected when it comes to this.

The media act in establishing certain concepts of deviance, and have the ability to create and instil particular attitudes towards certain groups within society. Newspapers often point towards the decline of our society in regard to their reporting of moral panics, and constantly refer back to the ‘good old days’.

This leads to an on-going concern that our society is in decline, and has created permanent panic which has led to the public being continuously aware of the belief that society no longer holds such past values as important. The concern expressed by the media can often both constitute and generate public concern where it isn’t needed, causing an outcry of panic amongst our society, as well as stereotyping certain groups and being prejudiced towards them. We cannot progress if we continue to allow the media to provoke these moral panics, and we will only see a degenerative society if this carries on.