Compare and Contrast the Approaches of Cohen Et Al. to the Role of Media in Relation to Social Disorder

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  • Topic: Sociology, Anti-Social Behaviour Order, Crime and Disorder Act 1998
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  • Published : April 15, 2013
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Compare and contrast the approaches of Cohen and Hall et al. to the role of the media in relation to social disorder.

Media is a form of communication through which information is represented and shared with society via a number of ways. Social issues such as disorderly conduct within society have been reported on and highlighted through newspapers, radio stations, television programs and the Internet. Cohen and Hall et al look at how the media report on and exaggerate violent and anti-social behaviour, and the effects this has on public perception.

Anti-social behaviour can be defined as behaviour that has no consideration for others and has the potential to cause damage or unrest within a society. People who are classed as anti-social appear to go against the norms of society in terms of personal conduct and chose to ignore the laws established by local and national government. Heather Shore (reference) a historian provides evidence that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are the point in history where the way crimes and offences were recorded changed. Offences started by being giving definitions and then used as terms to define someone’s character, e.g. thief and hooligan.

The term ‘mugging’ was first introduced into British society by the media as a way of describing the violent street crime that happened during the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the space of thirteen months between 1972 and 1973 the media reported on over 60 cases of muggings. At the time there was an increase in moral panic as street crime had never been so violent. Cohen (Cohen, 1972, cited in Silva E. 2009 pg 363) studied the public reaction to the media coverage in his 1972 study Folk Devils and Moral Panic. His study involved looking at the perception that the media highlights behaviour, which is seen as socially unacceptable to society, and shows a lack of respect to others. The term folk devils was used during this study as a way of describing people who are blamed for crimes and other problems within society and are shown as having no respect for the law or society. In the 1960’s folk devils were seen to be the mods and rockers who fought on the seafront in many seaside towns around Britain. Today they are seen to be the yobs, gangs, and hooligans often seen in inner city areas. Cohen argues that the way the media negatively portrays these folk devils creates a moral panic within society causing people to be terrified and angry. Politicians use this panic as a way to create stronger laws with harsher punishment, and empower the police force and legal system to be harsher with punishments. Would some people view this as being politically manipulative?

One example of the government trying to tackle the rise in anti-social behaviour and the increase in moral panic was the introduction of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. The act introduced the idea of Anti-social Behaviour Orders (or ASBOs as they became known within the media) to deal with minor offences quickly and efficiently; they banned certain people from doing certain things and going to particular places. The power to distribute ASBOs was given to local authorities and the police force; this could last for up to two years and wasn’t put onto the individual’s criminal record. ASBOs were intended to encourage local communities to identify behaviour they felt threatened by or thought was anti-scocial and report individuals to the police, this was supposed to help communities feel safe and secure as well as build a sense of community loyalty. While dealing with the anti-social behaviour, the ASBO fails to acknowledge the circumstances creating anti-social behaviour.

The idea that the ASBO puts more importance on punishment rather than support and help, as well as excluding the individual further from society is supported by Hall et al.’s (Hall et al. (1978), cited in Silva E 2009, pg. 370) study Policing the Crisis in 1978. This study looked at how the media contributed to the...
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