Posts Tagged ‘Moral panic’

Someone once made me aware that Bosnian refugees that came to Australia (1992-1995) were received with open arms and true compassion. This is not the case for refugees coming today from e.g. Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq or Bhutan and I cannot help but speculate in the reason for this. The only thought I can come up with is “cultural differences”, or even better “expected cultural differences”. I am not going to elaborate on that, but perhaps there are some countries that appears more similar to us than others and that we find it less threatening to invite them to our own countries. I write “expected cultural differences” because most of the time refugees come from countries far away and we do not know much about them. The little we know often stem from the media and therefore it can be said that we are dependent on the media for information about refugees.

ABC’s “Media Watch” revealed in an episode how Seven’s “Today Tonight” depicted a very uninformative, untrue, wrong and deceitful portrayal of refugees in Australia. Although everyone is not watching Today Tonight it shows that mainstream media has the power to influence our perception of refugees with lies, and this strengthens the argument that we need a more diasporic media. Alongside the mainstream media there need to be a more ‘sustainable media capital that allows for the possibility for self-representation’ (Salazar 2012).

Diasporic media can help ‘socialize migrant communities into their new environments’ and teach the host country about their cultures, background and stories in a less intimidating way (Khorana 2014) – and without the lies. It gives immigrants and refugees a chance to create their own self-image and to represent their identities without signs and codes imposed by others (Rodrigues 2001 in Salazar 2012).


Khorana, S 2014, ‘Diasporic Media’, Lecture, BCM310, University of Wollongong, 19 May.

Rodrigues, C 2001 ‘Fissures in the Mediascape: An International Study of Citizens’ in Salazar, JF 2012, ‘Digital stories and emerging citizens’ media practices by migrant youth in Western Sydney’, Journal of Community, Citizen’s & Third Sector Media & Communication, no. 7, pp.65-84,

Salazar, J.F 2012, ‘Digital stories and emerging citizens’ media practices by migrant youth in Western Sydney’, Journal of Community, Citizen’s & Third Sector Media & Communication, no. 7, pp.65-84,


We very often hear about the effects of the media. “Watching television makes you fat”, “violent videogames trigger violence” and “advertising causes pester power”, it is all familiar to us. But can we really blame all of this on the media?

Of course, there will always be someone saying that these things are proven, that the media does influence the audience, but are they really? There is always an experiment where experts, most likely psyhologists, try to reveal the truth between causes and effects, but how can they manage to prove anything? There is not any evidence, it does not exist. Well, the first saying that I mentioned is fairly easy to prove wrong actually, watching TV does not make you fat; it is the lifestyle which might come with it. Sitting in a couch all day while eating can very well have an effect like weight-gaining.

But videogaming and advertising towards children are tougher issues to come around. This is not because there are more evidence proving that they cause effects on an audience, it is because there have always been anxieties, or call it moral panics, connected to these issues. We have always been afraid of the media, blaming it for our children being violent, for having bad language, for dressing improperly and even for making us spend more money when we shop. It is like we have always needed someone to blame for our misbehavior, and of course, the media is the perfect source for that.

So why are we afraid of violent videogames and movies? Now this is when the we might call the media the bad guy. It is because we have heard too many stories telling us that videogames and movies are on of the reasons for violence. There are, it is sad to say, many examples of murders where the murderer seem to have been playing violent videogames or watched a violent video, and therefore we automatically conclude that “violent videogames trigger violence”! There is the Jamie Bulger case from 1993, the Martin Bryant case in 1996 and actually today some people suggest that the murders committed by Anders Breivik in 2011 were influenced by him playing World of warcraft and Call of Duty-Modern Warfare.

These kinds of stories promote moral panics, but they do not prove that it is the case, they are just assumptions. We should look at other causes before we jump to conclusions like how were their childhoods? How about neglect, abuse, alcoholism or bullying? This can be just as valid reasons for aggression as videogames! We learn by watching other people, by rolemodels, by being given moral codes from adults. This is more than a supposable cause for an effect. I am afraid that this is a harder source to blame though; it is tougher to point a finger at parents and society than at the media.

Can you think of an issue which concern you a lot? Is there any matter in the public sphere in which you engage yourself and feel that change and/or control is needed? Politics, health, the environment, they are all examples of topics which can create moral panic in a society. Have you ever stopped to think why everyone is worrying or if there really is something to worry about? What is the source of moral panic?

Stanley Cohen (Turnbull 2012) defines moral panic as;

“…A condition, episodes, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values
and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people.”

One such condition can be body image. There is a lot of talk and discussions of “the ideal body” both in social conversations and in the media. Health has always been important to us, but recently it seem to me that being super sporty, eating right and having the perfect body has emerged as a trend in our society. During the last years everyone have got a membership at the gym, it is no longer only the pros who has expensive outfits for cycling-sports or jogging, we all have to buy the healthiest bottled water, sushi, herbs and nuts are required for us to be truly nutritious  and smokers are looked upon as aliens we have never seen before.

There is an obsession today about eating correct and being fit and it can be experienced as threatening to our social values and interests. Children are very often a reason to moral panic; what examples do we set for our children? All this talk about obesity and being healthy, how might it influence the thinking of a child? I believe mainstream media is a source of moral panic, and so is social media. In mainstream media there are “experts” telling us what and why, and they know how to push the right buttons to get us worried (as well as to listen to their solutions to the problems, aka advertising), and in addition to that we actively debate and share the same news on twitter and facebook. Are we not creating our own panic doing that? I would say at least we are contributing.

We also need to use our common sense. We do not seem to question what the media tells us or why it tells us the stories that it does, we just accept everything. Isn’t it funny how their stories might differ from day to day? Are we worrying about obesity or eating disorders? One day I hear that we are to busy with our careers so we only serve our children McDonalds and the other day I get the impression that “no carbs” are the only option on the menu! Somehow we do not seem to notice, but we discuss obesity and “too skinny models” over the same dinner without noticing, and after dinner we still run to the gym in panic not to keep in shape. Contributing? Yes.

We are the ones who sets examples to our children, not the media. We decide what we serve for dinner at home, not the media. There might be bad role models presented in the media, but we have the opportunity to teach them different, in the end it is us who decides if there is a reason for moral panic, not the media.


Turnbull, S 2012, BCM110 “Media Issues, Moral Panics and Assignments”, lecture notes, accessed 22/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.