Media and Moral Panic

Media is the main revenue of mass communication. The media plays a variety of roles in society; its main responsibility is that of providing information. As constant consumers and users of this information the relevance to the majority of members in the wider community inclusive of teachers and students is critical. The media positions us as the audience to take a particular viewpoint of a topic, issue or problem that is evident in our society.

To what extent though does this role as information provider influence moral panic? Moral panic refers to the exaggerated social response to media coverage of a sporadic episode that consequently turns it into a widespread issue and causes colossal concern in society (Cohen, 1987). The media has a tendency to manipulate people by amplifying the facts and truths and using multiple camera techniques to surround a group/individual and outcast them in society, thus labeling them the ‘other’. Othering’ is closely linked to discrimination as it consists of the “objectification of another person or group” which puts aside and ignores the complexity and subjectivity of the individual/s. Teachers and students must construct their own knowledge about media coverage and understand that at times the media amplifies issues of concern by stereotyping and excluding particular members of society. A certain structure exists in society, if groups/individuals step outside of the boundaries, society categorises them as ‘others’ and excludes them from the majority.

After this occurrence there are two options that exist; to either accept the exclusion or conform to societal norms and return to the inclusion. It is vital to understand the effect that bullying, discrimination and the mass media have on these groups/individuals and realise that some students in your classroom may fall under these categories. Therefore it is in our power as teachers, to inform and position students to be critically literate consumers of the media, to ensure they are able to bestow a critical perspective towards texts.

Due to the fact that the media plays a massive role in students’ everyday lives in the 21st century it is vital that educators engage students in pedagogical experiences that teach them to become critically literate readers. Students could start by developing an understanding of the indicators of moral panic which are: 1. Concern – the issue is at a sensitive level and affects one’s feelings on a personal level. 2. Hostility – increased level of antagonism towards those involved in the threat or panic. 3. Consensus – a general agreement among society that a threat actually exists. . Disproportionality – the problem is exaggerated and amplified to create public concern. 5. Volatility – erupts suddenly and almost as quickly then subsides or disappears. (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994). Developing an understanding of these indicators gives students a solid foundation to be able to critically analyse the texts they observe and hear to make an informed decision about the information they are receiving. Students must also have an understanding of the indicators of Disproportionality so they are able to critically analyse the texts they are viewing.

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They must be able to identify when figures are exaggerated, figures are fabricated altogether, where there are other harmful conditions in society but they are not getting mass coverage and the changes over time (Critcher, 2006). It can have a detrimental effect in students understanding if they are not presented the tools to be critical readers of texts. In conclusion, it is completely important and relevant to teachers and their students to have a critical understanding of the relationship between the media and moral panic because….

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