Does the news media exaggerate the extent of drug-related crime?
“Legal drug teen ripped off his own scrotum.”
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 ‘moral panic’;
"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 ‘war on drugs’. It is proposed that elements of the news media exaggerate the extent of drug-related crime by simply misleading its audience through unsubstantiated assertions, maintaining and emphasizing a stereotyped characterisation of drug users and simplifying the often complex scientific, social and cultural contexts of the instances they are reporting. Further to considering the methods employed by the news media to exaggerate the extent of drug-related crime, the reasons behind it and its importance and impact will be discussed.
The accurate reporting of drugs and drug-related crime is a complex task and not free from challenges. It is worth initially considering the difficulties faced by the news media in their coverage of drug-related crime before arguing the case for exaggeration.
Firstly, the relative nature of drugs and their regulation means that the reporting of drug-related crime by the media is an inconsistent, fluid and unpredictable practice. The attitude of the media is, to an extent, understandably determined by the stage that the discussed drug has reached in the legislative and political process. Critcher points out that initial reporting of newly introduced drugs seems to be shaped by intrigue, but subsequently transforms into a more condemning tone. Pertinent examples of drugs having taken this journey include...