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The Forum > Article Comments > Fear sells papers > Comments

Fear sells papers : Comments

By Alexander Holt, published 13/6/2007

The recent coverage of the suicide pact of two teenage girls shows how our media is geared more towards fear-mongering than ethical reporting.

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The fear in newspapers has been led by the politics of fear perpertrated by the Howard Government for 11 long years. The conservative political weapon "children overboard" which proved to be a lie, after the election of course.
Posted by SHONGA, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 11:15:16 AM
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This is a much more complex issue than indicated here, and as much as I'd like to blame Howard, this is a symptom of a problem with the wider human condition.

It's quite simple - papers aim for what gets attention, be it sex, drugs or violence. They just want people to pick up the paper and read it, and will write about whatever will do that.

Here's where it gets tricky however - lets say we decide that we're going to deny that urge, and convince media to adopt more ethical reporting.
Aren't we then putting a form of control over the media? Why is it okay to complain about media barons and bias when it's other issues, but okay to do it for ethical reporting - who defines what's ethical reporting?
Would a pro-life supporter consider stories relating to abortions to be immoral? It's an extreme example I know, but quite the quandary. Morality isn't black and white and when you enforce ethical reporting, even though it may be for the best of reasons, it's still a form of censorship.

Yet, the only alternative appears to be a downward spiral into fearful stories and attention grabbing headlines.

It's definitely an issue worth discussing, but I've not much respect for empty pieces which just say "the media's bad" in some form, without realising that the media is just pandering to its audience - a much more bitter pill to swallow and a much harder problem to deal with.

Despite the headline, the article doesn't touch on the responsibility of the audience - though how the audience can better exercise that responsibility yet still engage the issue without boosting misplaced circulation is a tough one, especially when you consider the role of media as an informant.

Tough issues that need more rigorous analysis.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 11:33:34 AM
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Though I'm definitely not what you'd call a Howard supporter, I think it's absurd to call the use of fear as a political and economic tool a Howard government invention. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few other good examples of sensationalistic fear-mongering in the past. There's the ridiculous hysteria that surrounded the "sexed up" performances of Elvis Presley, and the drug use of the Beatles. And then there's the tendency to portray wartime enemies as horrible marauding monsters that exist only to destroy your way of life (see World Wars 1 & 2 and the Cold War especially for easily-obtainable examples).

I'm pretty sure they all pre-date the Howard government.
Posted by Jonathan Crane, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 11:42:35 AM
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I am not sure how one deals with reporting suicide. To accept social responsibility for the death of others requires seriously profound insights. I do not think that either the newspaper reporters or the audience are currently capable of embarking on the level of intellectual depth required to grasp suicide, as a social consequence.
Posted by vivy, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 12:14:40 PM
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ďIt's definitely an issue worth discussing, but I've not much respect for empty pieces which just say "the media's bad" in some form, without realising that the media is just pandering to its audience - a much more bitter pill to swallow and a much harder problem to deal with.Ē

This is an interesting point Ė and it raises a chicken-or-the-egg quandary. Are people more likely to swallow stories that pander because thatís what the majority media presents them with, or does the media pander because thatís what the audience demands?

I think, however, that itís a point that goes off on a tangent from the main thrust of this article. The article in question is not merely about pandering in the coverage of this particular story Ė itís about misreporting and baseless speculation. Itís about the widespread adoption of what are at best pseudo-truths because of the potential such journalistic methodology has for the boosting of profits. Iíll agree that journalistic ethics regarding pandering, bias and objectivity is a grey area worthy of wider discussion. But when it comes to misinformation and blatant fear-mongering, weíre definitely looking at black and white ethics, and black and white morality.
Posted by Jonathan Crane, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 12:24:14 PM
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Alexander, your article and the links included provided extremely useful and interesting information to me, as a mother.
It's undeniable that the news of this suicide pact and its apparent motives, as covered in most media, had raised fears in me. How could I protect my daughters? Your article provided a much more balanced, and much more helpful insight into the tragedy.
It is a very fine example of good journalism.
Thank you
Posted by CitizenK, Wednesday, 13 June 2007 1:07:53 PM
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