Youth Crime, Moral Panics, and the News

Published: 2021-09-30 08:10:04
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Category: Morality, Crime, News, Youth, Morals

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Is youth crime a moral panic or a moral crisis, many people will have different views however what view does the media haveThe media tend to represent youth crime as a moral panic within society to create a stir and gain the public’s attention. I will be addressing how the media show this representation by analysing certain headlines and cases, which caused such controversy involving youth crime. Since the existence of youth crime the media use this particular offence as a catalyst of creating a moral panic within the community. I will look at the words they used and how they layout the news to create this moral panic and how exaggerated a story can become with help from the media.

Moral panic can be defined as the intensity of a feeling expressed in the population about a certain issue that appears to threaten the social order of society (Jones 1999). Youth crime can be defined as “Juvenile delinquency” this refers to children generally under the age of 18 years old who behaves in a way, which is against the law. Majority of legal systems recommend specific actions for dealing with these youths, e.g. young offender’s institutes or detention centres. In the United Kingdom youth crime is generally summarised as young teenagers involved in anti-social behaviour and knife or gun crime. Youth crime has risen drastically in the past years. One major moral panic that occurred from youth crime was the Jamie Bulger case is 1993 which caused a massive uproar in society which resulted in the Criminal Justice and Public order Act 1994, therefore supporting the idea moral panic can be healthy for the society.
What is moral panic?
A moral panic refers to the reaction of the public based on a belief that a group poses danger to the society; they distinguish this particular group as a huge threat to their social values and culture (Encyclopaedia 2011). Stanley Cohen created the term moral panic in 1972 for recounting the media coverage of Mods and Rockers in the UK during the 1960s. Cohen describes moral panic as a “condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen 1973:9). He also states that those who create the moral panic due to having a fear of an threat to prevailing social or cultural values are referred to as “moral entrepreneurs”, where as those who are seen as a threat to the social order are defined as “folk devils” (Cohen 1973:16). Moral panics are seen as incidents that involve arguments and social tension and therefore disagreement is difficult because the problem is represented as taboo (Kuzma 2005). The media are representatives of “moral indignation”, although they are not fully engaged with the controversy, reporting the fact is enough to produce concern, anxiety and panic (Cohen 1973:9). Goode and Ben-Yehuda, voiced theories that moral panic consists of five characteristics. The first one they recognised is the concern that the behaviour of the group e.g. youth crime is most likely to have a negative impact on society. The second characteristic is that if the hostility towards “youths” increases, they will eventually become “folk devils” therefore creating a division (Cohen 1973:16). The third is a form of consensus although concern is not nationwide; there should be global acceptance that the youths pose a threat to society. The fourth characteristic is formed up of disproportionality and the action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group. The final and fifth characteristic is volatility; moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly due to a lack of public interest or other rising news reports (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994:57).
Media representation of youth and youth crime
Different types of media representations include radio, newspaper, magazines, websites and news channels they are all exclusively involved in spreading and broadcasting news directly to the public. How they represent the news is specifically up to them however they have a drastic impact on how the public view it as well as they are the main influence on people’s emotions and opinions. Furedi explains that moral panics tend to begin “at times when society has not been able to adapt to dramatic changes” and such changes lead to those becoming concerned and to express their fear over what they see as a “loss of control” (Furedi 1994:3) The media tend to concentrate on representing youth crime in both a negative and positive way, they show hatred and anger towards the youths who commit the crimes as well as sympathy and condolences on the youths who are victims of youth crime therefore this sways a person’s opinion due to the contexts of the news. An example of this is the case of Stephen Lawrence in 1993; the Daily Mail newspaper issued a cover branding all five suspects as “murderers”, challenging them to sue the newspaper for libel if they were wrong. The headline read “Murderers” and accuses these men of killing, it quoted “If we are wrong, let them sue us” (The daily Mail 1997). The paper’s front page provoked a wide range of different reactions. Many members of the public applauded it for stepping in where the law had deliberately failed; others were alarmed at such an obvious case of “trial by media” and responded by asking what if the five suspects had been black, not whiteMedia representations of youth concentrate mainly on violent crimes and report particular examples of juvenile offenders. The media see it as their duty to remind the public that behind the headlines there is a large number of youths offending in the criminal justice system. When they represent youth crime the media concentrate on how they come across to the public and their main duty is to make the offender apologies and to express remorse for their actions.
Media representation on Moral Panic
The way the media represent moral panic has to be done in a precise way as what they show has to impact people’s views and opinions drastically. Newspapers tend to start with a catchy headline to grab attention and to cause controversy. An example of this is the headline the Daily Mail issued on the murder of teenager Ben Kinsella, they quoted “T.V stars brother stabbed to death as he begged for help”, instantly people are drawn to this by the words T.V star and begged for help and are immediately overcome with compassion and interest. Another example is the Evening standard website headed their article with the title “guilty: Animals who killed Ben Kinsella”, anyone who reads this instantly have the image that these youths are animals and killers and have immediately made up their opinion on the youths involved in the murder. It’s questioned what these examples of newspaper headlines have in common, and what relevance and significance do they create for individuals. Its been said that they are all illustrations of an ‘episode, condition, person or group of persons’ that have, been ‘defined as a threat to societal values and interests’ the term Cohen established as ‘The Moral Panic’ (Cohen 1972: 9).
The main motions of these created moral panics (e.g. Jamie Bulger case) are provided by the media when submitting their representations, they express moral panic as anger rather than fear, these particular panics generally have a variety of outcomes e.g. justice or disappointment. It can be seen that the moral panic the media create can benefit the public in a positive way helping society wake up and create change, as shown from the Ben Kinsella’s murder many members of the public used his story to build youth crime charities preventing knife crime and helping stop young teenagers turning to crime. When examined many moral panics follow Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s five characteristics of how they are showed although they also stated a additional two characteristics with Cohen that state these two developments inform the individual that society is in the control of a moral panic and the creation of ‘folk devils’ and a ‘disaster mentality’ (Cohen 1972:140 in Goode & Ben-Yehuda 1994: 28). This comes with help from the media and they are the main influence in helping spread this moral panic without the media not many members of society can become involved with the creation of a moral panic. This is shown in the Stephan Lawrence case this terrible act was characterised modern British society ignoring the fact figures have shown such murders are extremely rare. Although it was not that this particular murder was a ‘symbol of nineties Britain’ but the media’s reaction to it (Bradley 1994: 1).
Bradley, Ann (1994) ‘A Morality Play For Our Times’ (Living Marxism issue 63).
Cohen, S. (1973). Folk Devils and Moral Panics. St Albans: Paladin.
Furedi, Frank (1994) ‘A Plague of Moral Panics’ (Living Marxism issue 73)
Goode, Erich and Ben-Yehuda, Nachman- Moral Panics: Social Construction of Deviance: Oxford Wiley-Blackwell publishers (1994).
Hough, Mike and Roberts, Julian. “Youth crime and youth justice”: the policy press (2003).
Jones, M, and E. Jones. (1999). Mass Media. London: Macmillan Press.
Kuzma, Cindy. “Rights and Liberties: Sex, Lies, and Moral Panics” (2005).
The Daily Mail- “murderers” (14 February 1997).
The Daily Mail “T.V stars brother stabbed as he begged for help” (June 30, 2008).

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