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The United Kingdom has been through a lot of difficulties and transformation in the past decade with terrorist attacks taking place in Manchester and London, to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the consequences and challenges that face the country when we leave. The UK is well known for its tourist attractions including such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, and the Lake District to name a few. Nevertheless; since January 2018 there has been a re-emergence in the UK around gang and knife crime culture, which has seen a rise in the number of cases particularly in London being reported not just to the police but by the media. Being from the UK, I love visiting London for work or as a tourist looking to explore its history, for me personally, it is scary to see the reports about knife crime taking place. For my part, I will not let the fear of what is happening in stop me from visiting, but I am going be more hyper vigilante of my surroundings in the future.
The issues of knife crime in the UK is not a new issue that arose in 2018, it has been around for many years before that. However; the media representation of the issue has been raised and highlighted more in recent years and with that in mind, my research question aims to explore the issues further. How does the media representation of knife crime in London create a moral panic among UK citizens?
For this research, theories such as Stanley Cohen (1972) Folk Devils and Moral panic theory and Howard Becker’s (1963) Labelling Theory can be used to asses and explain how the media reports on the stabbings taking places in London and the reactions by the British Public in response to these attacks. Ulrich Beck’s (1996) Risk society theory will be used briefly to ascertain what risk society means in relation to this research question and in this case the risk society will be the people who commit knife crime and the media reporting of the problem.
Knife crime as a subject is very hard to explore as there is no clear classification to describe it, making it hard to define what crime falls into the knife crime category. This can be shown by Eades et al (2007:9) in their book on ‘Knife Crime’ a review of evidence and policy, which states that “Knife crime potentially encompasses a very broad range of offences and thus causes problems in both the deﬁnition and determination of its prevalence”. They further go onto argue that much of the reporting on knife crime by the politicians and the media is misleading to the public due to unreliable information and a failure to presents the “facts accurately”. As referred to in my introduction, knife crime is not a new phenomenon in the UK or particularly London, it has been prevalent for over a decade and even beyond that.
The Serious Violence Strategy Report (2018) which is a report produced by the Government of the UK to investigate knife and firearms offence, shows over a four-year period from 2013 to 2017, that police figures of knife crime had risen by 39%. However; since January 2018 we have seen an increase in the reported cases of knife crime being reported to the police and by the media. Figures in a report by the National Office of Statistic shows that there was a rise in reported cases from March 2017 to March 2018, it showed that violence with a weapon such as a knife was up by 40, 127 to that of March 2016-17.
However a criticism of the report it is that it does not report on the race, ethnic background or age of the offender who committed the crime. According to Hall (1981), “the media help to ‘integrate’ society, we must mean simply that they maximize the knowledge and contact between different and varying groups in society”. An example of this would be if the UK Government had important news to tell the public, they would use the media outlets to distribute this.
Other ways the media can influence the public is by the language they use not just in the body of their article but also as the title of their article. The Telegraph (2018) begins its article with the title of “Child Stabbing rise by 63pc amid ‘disturbing trend of younger knife crime victims”. Another article by the Guardian (2018) starts with “Streets of Fear” or again from the Guardian (2018) “Knife crime is an epidemic. Do we care enough to look for a cure”?
One further article title that can be used to stir up emotion to the knife crime incidents in London is shown by the Mirror (2018) who state that “London’s knife crime bloodbath continues, after two boys, 15, left in hospital with stab wounds”. All these newspaper articles begin with hard-hitting, bold titles that stand out and are the first thing that is bound to catch the readers imagination. Nevertheless, it is not just the titles that can stir people’s imagination, it is the language and pictures used throughout the articles that may further cause panic in society. Knife crime is currently a big issue within UK; however, most of the media articles sourced only seem to represent attacks that have been taking place in London. This means that we are not getting a true reflection of how big the problems of knife crime are in the UK.
In this research paper, the risk society affected by knife crime is the public and the streets around where the knife crime has occurred. Beck (2002:631) World Risk Theory argues that “Risk inherently contains the concept of control” and “presumes decision making”. If we link this to knife crime we can see that people who commit knife have the control and the power. They have made their decision-making skills to weigh up the risks and the pros and cons of committing these attacks against others and have continued with their crimes.
Cohen’s (1972) Moral Panic and folk devil’s theory states “Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic”. Cohen further goes onto say that if a person; or a group of people, condition is viewed in a way that there is a threat to society, it is nature for the media to inform the public in a way that will suit the politicians and the elite. If you relate moral panic and the folk devil’s theory to the media presentation of the knife crimes areas as risk society, it is easy to see why people may choose to stay away due to the fear that has been created.
It could be seen that if it can happen to them then it can happen to me, or it could be a child that has been killed in a knife crime so to keep them safe they keep them in the house. Becker’s (1962) Labelling Theory argues that can be used to describe the city itself in this research, the newspapers describe London as being streets of fear, London Bloodbath or an epidemic. This could persuade local visitors and tourists not to visit certain streets in London for fear they maybe attacked next, this could do harm to people’s businesses and affect their livelihood.
There has been a lot of social reactions to knife crime, not just this year but throughout the past decade. New preventative methods have been introduced by police and politicians to prevent knife crimes. One way that this has happened is the banning of buying knives over the internet and instead must purchase from a shop with ID being required, this will stop youngster from getting access to knives more easily. According to the Telegraph (2018) “over 300 extra police officers deployed on streets to tackle spike in knife crime”. Social reactions by the public include; a teenager from one area of London who set up a bike ride project to encourage children to steer away from knife crime by riding their bikes.
From the articles and the theory presented on the media’s reaction to the knife crime taking place in London that has been sourced, it is understandable to see how it could lead to moral panic. The media have shaped the news so that it describes certain events in a way that the public will be required to read and react on. All theories discussed above, can describe the reactions that society would see knife crime as a risk society. However, there have been several preventative and social reactions to the attacks that have occurred not just recently but over the past few years, with tougher laws being brought into prevent knife crimes. Social reactions have also placed a part in trying to deter knife crimes, with different group being set up by teenagers to try and encourage gang and knife crime. Although, in my opinion I believe that since January 2018 the media has created a moral panic with their reporting of the issues and the way the articles are worded, has led me to question how safe I am when walking down the street in London.
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