Media Hysteria Against Paedophiles: Barking at the Wrong Tree
Social policy and legal measures to perfect society remain inadequate where critics and educated observers such as Jennifer Kitzinger are not elected or assigned to legislative or government posts that help shape laws and policies. Where people like her are assigned to such posts, other political issues and bureaucratic impediments will become known to people like her and probably to a public that will be given the chance to know the information. In most instances, the link to the exposure of information maybe the media or the press.
This highlights the role of the media or the press in public debate, legislation and policy. How truly important matters in the lives of the majority of people in a given society are obscured by sensationalism in the media is a major issue, too, not only amongst authorities, policy-makers and legislators, but also to some enlightened members of the masses, the media, various non-government organisations, as well as the business sector. In the “Ultimate Neighbour From Hell” (Kitzinger, 1999), this issue about the media and societal perception is highlighted slanting towards “the paedophile” where the convicted are ostracised and even committed grave errors such as the burning of their homes including the children living with them, or the innocent with them sharing in their burdens. By arguing that media sensationalism and hysterical societal reaction against “the paedophile” obscures legislation, Kitzinger becomes a part of the sensationalist movement that tries to transfer blame instead of finding solution. What society needs is an aggressive implementation of laws to protect the innocent, from children to elderly, and excuses such as lack of resources and bureaucratic incompetence should be properly addressed.
Kitzinger (1999) repeatedly pointed out that “the government and ‘the professionals’ rapidly lost control of the news agenda and information distribution” (135), “policy makers had to reconsider legislation, policy, and practice,” (135), “the ‘big story’ for the media, but the major headache for policy makers, became not government initiatives, but public fear and anger,” (136), “Some papers assumed the role of guardians of public safety” (138), “proof of their failure to match rationality and objectivity of the policy makers” (140), “policy makers and the professionals losing control of the agenda,” (140) referring to inadequacy in governance.
This inadequacy on the part of government officials or legislators is seen on conflicting government policies such as when 1996 Home Secretary Michael Howard made public about a policy to monitor sex offenders (136), as “Routine community notification and the automatic right of public access to the sex offender’ register is opposed by chief constables, chief probation officers and the NSPCC,” (139). Already, the problem is of flawed legislation and policy. Where offenders are monitored and made public, it should not be limited to sex offenders but also to indicted officials on bribery and corruption cases, owners of disastrous business enterprises that endangered the public such as the recent oil spill by BP p. l.c. (Goldenberg, 2011), and other law violators who committed offence against one or many individuals.
Here, it was already obvious there was a bias on picking which is “evil”, and which are legally right or wrong. The cases against the harassed “paedophiles” and suspected ones enumerated by Kitzinger (1999) definitely are themselves violations of existing laws and should have been properly acted upon but Kitzinger failed to mention whether such cases had been actually legally acted upon or not. This is important to vindicate the law enforcers and the policy makers. However, it will remain falling short of the expectation for fairness and equality. Through media and societal hysteria against paedophiles, a crisis was identified, but it was not enough that focus was on the “evil”. It could have been a stepping stone towards identifying policy flaws which is in the limitation of monitoring on sex offenders, instead of “all offenders” as a sweeping policy will divide media attention with the possibility of focusing on what really matters most.
As Kitzinger acceded, “It is not sufficient to focus on media coverage.” However, she may be in for another bigger disappointment to suggest that “It is important to consider the motives of source organisations who seek out media publicity” as observable and fact-based motives may be conflicting. In fact, influence is also another major factor where media is concerned as these are business entities that may not actually be the “fourth state” but beholden to their major stakeholders (Sullivan, 2005) as much as policy makers are (Mancuso, 1995).
The laws of the land are based on the common perception of human rights, fairness, equality, and freedom. Where these are violated, a common ground to sanction, monitor, and control offenders should be enacted in a manner that is equitable to all concerned with prevention of recurrence and protection of the innocent majority as major goals.
For the meantime, it should be apparent by now to critics, observers, individuals and organisations to understand that media entities, although appear or claim to be the voice of the people, are business enterprises that are answerable to their major stakeholders. Members of the media have reasons and have the right to be biased and obscure. Government officials on the other hand are beholden to the public and have surrendered their rights to be biased, and ultimately have no right to be obscure. They should be competent and accountable, and the public have the right to demand for it.
Goldenberg, S. (2011). BP and partners face $45m in fines over Gulf oil spill. The Guardian, October 13. Accessed from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/13/bp-fines-gulf-oil-spill
Kitzinger, J. (1999). The Ultimate Neighbour from Hell: Stranger Danger and the Media Framing of Paedophilia. Critical Readings: Moral Panics and the Media.
Mancuso, M. (1995). The Ethical World of British MPs. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Sullivan, M. (2005). Media Bias is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist. UCLA Newsroom, December 14. Accessed from http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/Media-Bias-Is-Real-Finds-UCLA-6664.aspx?RelNum=6664
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