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Media Representation of Stranger Danger


On the basis of recent studies, it has been noticed that mass media has a fairly important role to play in terms of deciding the communication abilities between families and the outside world. In accordance to the principles of psychology, media influences are the basic ways, through which people learn to behave with regards to a particular scenario. Through the means of DVD, internet, television and newspapers, media has managed to influence the thoughts and actions of individuals. Hence, it is very correct to state that media has a major role to play in influencing the overall cultural impact on the society as well.

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Mass Media and Child Abuse

There was once a debate in the African world, which clearly stated the difficulties involved in raising a small child. As a matter of fact, in accordance to a famous quote, it becomes all the more clear that it is not always easy to raise a child in the African world. “It takes a village to raise a child”. This quote epitomizes the importance of the role of the wider community in raising children and young people (Tomison and Wise 1999: 1). There have also been repeated debates which state that the responsibility of raring a small child is not merely limited to their parents but it is equally directed towards their communities as well. (Cohen, Ooms and Hutchins 1995; Korbin and Coulton 1996). The commonly held attitudes in a community often need to be altered to raise the overall level of community awareness and this is possible only through the means of a strategic planning. In order to prevent the spread of child abuse, people need to first confront and then ascertain the basic issues which affect the growth of a healthy upbringing of an ordinary child (Goddard; Saunders, 2000)

In accordance to a report by National Child Protection Council (undated: 9, cited in Hawkins, McDonald, Davison and Coy 1994): “In order to put a stop to the ongoing child abuse, you need to first put a stop the beliefs of those communities and groups, which encourage the growth of child abuse.” Child abuse has been a widespread issue amongst both the developed as well as the developing countries, with the developing countries being considered as the most affected of them all. Whenever we are to talk about child abuse, neglect and lack of adequate knowledge in our communities, we need to understand that the level of awareness can only be increased through the means of mass media. It is indeed the mass media, which has the power to draw attention towards this ongoing issue. Issues Paper 14, Child Abuse and the media (Goddard and Saunders 2001) clearly stated the importance of mass media in terms of making people realize the demerits of a non-committal upbringing. Through the means of political and public responses, media has successfully managed to raise the overall level of awareness by influencing the overall opinions of the general public and constructively advocating the cause for the overall improvement in the living conditions of young children (Goddard; Saunders, 2000)

There are numerous ways through which media tries to influence its opinions on individuals. Some of the important means include, stories, articles, and campaigns, including, sporadic mass media campaigns directed towards changing the overall opinions of individuals, influencing the local masses to change their overall attitude towards young children and permitting ordinary people to participate in programs which allow them to gain an incite into the ill affects of abusive child upbringing. While the role of mass media has often been cited as the single most effective factor in deciding the effectiveness of a child abuse campaign, it has its own limitations as well. There have often been lengthy debates regarding the overall effectiveness of the ongoing media campaigns, with special regard to eradicating the doctrine of compulsive child abuse.

With regards to the above paragraph, there has been widespread criticism on the role of media, with one individual going to the extent of stating that, ‘media campaigns are bloody expensive’ (Rayner, 1996). At the same time, it has also been argued that the overall impact of media campaigns is completely unpredictable and when a country has limited resources, a media campaign is not always on the top of its agenda (Goddard; Saunders, 2000)

A Review of Literature

Content Analysis on Child Abuse and Media

There have often been lengthy debates regarding the overall effects of media intervention with regards to a child abuse case. With special regards to the above mentioned statement, we would now be streamlining our data to a particular individual who proved to be an unfortunate victim to the judicious onslaught of a well directed media intervention. If we are to elaborate this statement further, we would realize that the crux of this section is directed towards the unfortunate story of Aiyana Gauvin, an unfortunate child, who fell victim to the persistent media glare and of course, a history of child abuse. One of the biggest reasons for this occurrence was the depiction of the story as a crime thriller, which was pictured to perfection by none other than the over zealous mass media. (Rao; Willson; Dutta, 2009)

Just like a story has a plot, media acts on the basis of a frame. The frame is therefore considered as a central organizational idea, which is directed to portray an image which may or may not be conducive to the actual image. In accordance to a media frame, the following questions need to be answered beforehand-what causes that problem, the basic nature of the problem, the total number of parties involved in the ongoing problem and finally, the solution to resolve the problem in an amicable way. Unfortunately, media frames are not at all explicit and people in media take it for granted that their applied methodology is by far the best (Van Gorp, 2007). The only problem lies in the fact that in this scenario, it is the journalists who prove to be the deciding factor. It is they who choose to either encourage or downplay a particular section of the story (Rao; Willson; Dutta, 2009).

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In a recent research by Newsbank, which in turn happens to be a storehouse of electronically produced newspapers; it was found that media had a major role to play in the untimely death of Aiyana Gauvin’s demisal. From July 2004 to June 2007, the term “child abuse” had been appearing in the J&C newspapers on a regular basis. In accordance to the report on Newsbank, the story made headlines wherein it received 681 hits. Surprisingly, almost half of these had only a sentence in relation with the ongoing child abuse crisis and they conveniently choose to discuss other issues instead of the main topic. Once the errant stories were removed, it was found that only 331 were relevant to the topic, while the others were simply media savvy news items. Finally, three departments were established on the basis of which, relative frames were set for further study. The first was the criminal justice descriptive; the second was the criminal justice evaluative and the final one was community asset building (Rao; Willson; Dutta, 2009).

In accordance to the first two frames, the entire story came across as crime thriller, wherein both the victim as well as the preparatory was a part of the legal system, although their tones differed to a great extent. In accordance to the CJD system, the frame captured stories regarding the child abuse, the ongoing investigations and the legal proceeds, but it did not include any evaluative comments by the observers as well as the active participants. The CJE frame on the other hand, managed to capture the plight of the victim, critically analyzed the role of the police department and the role of the preparatory, besides looking into the basic punishment criteria. The third model, which happened to be the Cab model, categorically stated that it was indeed the community which was responsible for creating the poor economic as well as political situation, which eventually led to the much publicized case of child abuse (Rao; Willson; Dutta, 2009).

A Review of Methods and Materials

Media Representation of Population under Social Threat

Whenever we talk about a particular section of the population, which is supposedly suffering from some social threat, we need to understand that media has a prominent role to play in the depiction of the so called, ‘threatened population.’ Let us take this debate further by analyzing the current position of Islam in media. The demonic representation of Islam by the western media has been categorically criticized by the protectors of Islam. They have cited the depiction of their people as a symbolic representation of a distorted image by the western nations. This has led people to believe that owing to the sudden collapse of communism, the west, in a bid to retain its hegemony, took advantage of the global power equation and depicted the Muslim community as a race which is symbolic to barbarism (Poole, 2005).

The media has taken a strong turn towards popularizing the Muslim community as fundamentalists, threatening in nature and manipulative in their approach. The global image of Islam is therefore very negative and has always proved to scare the individual masses with its hideously biased representation. Different nations have different circumstances, owing to which a representation can be drawn. This, in real terms, would be fairly different from any other region or locality. Nonetheless, in such a scenario, it has been noticed that the media is often unbiased in its approach. Taking cue from the above statement, let us now try and discuss the fate of British Muslims by studying the British newspapers with care (Poole, 2005)

With special regards to the 837 articles which were published between the year 1993 and 1996, in The Guardian and The Times, again with regards to the condition of British Muslims in the United Kingdom, it has been found that there was no tone which hinted either a negative or a positive image of the Muslim population residing in the United Kingdom. The main topics which have been highlighted by the media regarding the British Muslims is, the relationships in terms of marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, the main fundamentalist groups of Islam in Britain, their political and criminal behavior, their relationship with Prince Charles, their relationship with Christians and finally, their control over the freedom of speech (Poole, 2005).

If we are to take a particular example, with special regards to the concept of relationships, we need to understand that the overall rigidity of Islam has been practically depicted by an unbiased media. In this scenario, if an individual (a British national) decides to get married to a Muslim national, he/she is subjected to widespread criticism from the Islamic communities. It is as though he/she has committed a crime. If we are to take this example to a different plane, we would realize that it clearly shows that both Islam as well as the British culture are poles apart and whenever a relationship is built on the basis of diverse cultures, there is bound to be public hue and cry. With special regards to the power of speech, there could be no better explanation than the ongoing Rushdie affair. Not very happy with what he wrote in his book, Rushdie was subjected to a religious decree, a fatwa, which was awarded by the Iranian court. It clearly states that a Muslim national has no right to express his views in general public. Once again, it was the media which brought this story out. It also discloses the fact that Muslims in Britain are in reality dictated by Muslims living in other countries (Poole, 2005)

Pathological Families and Social Threat

Pathological families are families which stay in some sort of a utopian environment, wherein they are unable to decipher fact from fiction. Some people terms this as a psychological problem while others attribute this condition as ignorance on the part of the guardians. A pathological liar is an important part of this category. The condition could have been triggered owing to a network of distinct mental disorders. Such psychotic conditions often lead to obsessive compulsive disorders and are often known to spread through the means of genetics. One of the main reasons why such families are considered different from others is because they are unable to think like a rational human being and are constantly trying to prove themselves right by adopting measures, which are considered a taboo by the society.

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It’s given on the site of Mental Health CEs, “In accordance to the social rank theory (Gilbert 2000; Price, 1969, 1972; Price & Sloman, 1987; Sloman, Price, Gilbert, & Gardner, 1994), it has been ascertained that depression is a state of mind wherein the depressed organ saves itself from further damage. In terms of social comparisons, studies have shown that human social conflicts seldom result in blows and individuals who are involved in some or the other kind of conflict, try and resolve their issues through the means of a hierarchal social status (Allen ,1995;Gilbert , 1997). Through the means of this example, we can realize that the eventual winner of a conflict is decided by the individual’s social status, wherein the stronger always emerges as the victor while the other, who happens to belong to a lower social stratum, is deemed as the looser. This phenomenon clearly states that the overall scenario of loss or victory is completely dependent on the overall popularity of an individual. Often termed as social attractiveness, this phenomenon is in reality, the single most effective factor in deciding the eventual outcome in a social conflict. Poor social comparisons, on the other hand, have often been linked to expression and anxiety (Allan & Gilbert, 1995; Gilbert et al., 1995).”

In regards to this phenomenon, a model based upon the level of anxiety has also been drawn, which clearly states that individuals, who happen to be socially anxious, tend to operate on the basis of a defense mechanism, in order to counter the predominance of repeated social comparison (Gilbert, 1989; Trower & Gilbert, 1989; Trower, Gilbert, & Sherling, 1990). This kind of an anxiety is primarily asserted to prevent a possible loss of status owing to a sudden social conflict. In this scenario, triggers are primarily responsible for deciding the level of social rank theory, with special regards to an individualistic social status. While a victory often leads to elation, a defeat triggers instant depression.

According to Torey-hayden website, “There have often been instances wherein your instinct tells you to run from a conflict but owing to the inability of the weaker opponent to fully utilize his evasive techniques, the conflicting situation often results in an “arrested flight” (Dixon, Fisch, Huber, & Walser, 1989). Although this is primarily an animal instinct, when the same principle is applied in the context of human beings, with special regards to the social rank theory, the arrested flight is performed by an individual who aspires to save his social status by de-escalating from the point of conflict. This approach often leads to an increased level of dependency and self criticism”


There has been ample research on the topic which concerns the effects of mass media on an individual’s mindset. Through the means of detailed researches, which in turn have spanned for a period of over 30 years, it has been analyzed that media has an important role to play in influencing the overall perception of an individual’s mindset. A detailed research paper was unveiled by the Australian Government, in the year 2001, which clearly stated the relationship between the increase in the number of mentally ill patients and the widespread influence of media has led to complication of sorts (Francis, Pirkis, Dunt, & Blood, 2001). After analyzing dozens of researches, it was ascertained that mass media was directly responsible in instilling negative images in the minds of individuals. Likewise, other studies have criticized the role of media in portraying the images of people with mental illnesses, as these have led ordinary people to look down upon those who suffer from mental ailments. (Edney, 2004)

Owing to the unclear depiction of mental patients by the related media agencies, ordinary people have been forced to believe that individuals who suffer from mental disorders are in reality violent in nature and can therefore be considered as a bane to the society. While there can be various hypotheses based on this paper, the following five points need to be considered with utmost care. They have been evaluated, proven and applied to practical use. (Edney, 2004)

  • In accordance to the first finding, it has been ascertained that mass media happens to be the single most effective medium of making the general public aware of mental illnesses.
  • It has also been noticed that the overall representation of media, with special regards to mental illnesses, has led to the formation of negative images in the minds of the ordinary people.
  • The connection between media’s portrayal of mental illness and the perception of people is directly proportional. In simple words, whenever media tries to portray mental illness in a negative manner, it influences ordinary individuals to regard patients suffering from mental disorders, as a taboo to the society.
  • The individuals, who are suffering from mental illnesses, tend to have a negative impact whenever they see themselves portrayed in a negative manner by the media agencies.
  • Likewise, the response of the government with regards to mental issues and the negative representation of media, with special regards to patients with mental illnesses, are also directly linked with each other (Edney, 2004). While there are various mediums through which media gets a chance to showcase its researches, regardless of whether they are biased or not, the following table clearly shows the level of influence a particular medium has over another (Edney, 2004)

Popular Sources of Information about Mental Illness

  • Newsmagazine shows 70%
  • Newspapers 58%
  • TV news 51%
  • News magazines 34%
  • TV talk shows 31%
  • Radio news 26%
  • Other magazines 26%
  • Internet 25%
  • Non-fiction books 25%
  • Talk shows on radio 18%
  • Women’s magazines 18% (Edney, 2004)


  1. Edney,R.(2004). Mass Media and Mental Illness: A Literature Review.
  2. Goddard, C., Saunders,B.J. (2000),“The role of the media”, pp. 73-127 in Project Axis – Child SexualAbuse in Queensland: Selected Research Papers, Queensland Crime Commission, Brisbane.
  3. Pathological Liars. Torney-Hyden Official website.
  4. Poole, E. (2005). Media representation and British Muslims. 
  5. Rao, R.,Wilson, R., Dutta, M.(2009). How do local media cover child abuse and neglect? A frame analysis of the Lafayette Journal and Courier’s coverage of the Aiyana Gauvin case.

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