Does the news media exaggerate the extent of drug-related crime?
â€œLegal drug teen ripped off his own scrotum.â€
Although a seemingly facetious example, the above quote serves to illustrate the descent of drug use, and the crimes induced, inspired, defined by and systemic of drug abuse, into what Cohen described as a â€˜moral panicâ€™;
"A condition, episode, person or group of persons [who] become defined as a threat to societal values and interests."
The question asks whether the news media exaggerates drug-related crime. This essay takes the position that the news media does exactly this as part of its role in the â€˜war on drugsâ€™. It is proposed that elements of the news ...view middle of the document...
Pertinent examples of drugs having taken this journey include marijuana (Young) and LSD (Braden). (It should be noted that marijuana is the currently the subject of a reclassification, and in some cases declassification, debate and has actually received some supportive coverage by the news media since Youngâ€™s attention during the 1970â€™s. It would appear that the social and legislative journey of marijuana is far from over. Perhaps the best example of its ambiguity as a â€˜markâ€™ in the â€˜war on drugsâ€™ is the recent case of Patricia Tabran or the â€˜cannabis grannyâ€™ and its coverage by The Times. There is, however, a long way to go before marijuana sees blanket support from the news media and still faces overwhelmingly negative exposure.) Not only does this make it difficult to review the historic reporting of drug-related crime holistically, it means that the question itself faces a degree of uncertainty and is bound by its own politically and socially sensitive context.
Secondly, the media often face a conflict of interests between scientific opinion and the policy agenda of governments. The most obvious example of this being the recent dismissal of the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt. Nutt was dismissed by then home secretary Alan Johnson after publishing a pamphlet and giving a series of lectures which argued against various decisions of the then Labour government in regard to drug policy; notably the reclassification of cannabis from a class C to a class B drug. This inconsistency and incompatibility of opinion can only make it harder for the media to accurately report on instances of drug-related crime and any accusations of exaggeration must be assessed in relation to both sets of interest; political and scientific.
Despite these difficulties and problems faced by and beyond the control of the news media, it is still arguable that the extent of drug-related crime is exaggerated. Historically, many theorists have suggested that the media go beyond the nuance surrounding drug-related crime and the fluid social status of drugs to create and assert â€˜fantasy notionsâ€™ of drug takers and amplify the extent of the damage they cause. Becker revealed that marijuana users were labeled as outsiders, Downes argued that the media present the drug-addict as a â€˜folk-devilâ€™, Critcher reveals how the more recent phenomenon of ecstacy and rave culture has descended into a â€˜moral panicâ€™, whilst Coomber et al summarise the devotion of criminological theory to this specific area thusly;
â€œExaggeration, distortion, inaccuracy, sensationalism; each of these labels has been consistently applied to the reporting of drug related issues in the print and other media over the last 40 years and beyond.â€
It is evident therefore that the case for some parts the media presenting an amplified and somewhat alarmist account of drug-related crime is a strong one, substantiated by a...