Racism when reinforced by the negative media can cause moral panic in people. Moral panic is being defined by Stanley Cohen (1987), as a sporadic episode that occurs and subjects the society to bouts of moral panic, or in other terms, worry about the values and principles that society upholds which may be in jeopardy. In simpler words, it occurs when a certain individual or groups of people emerge to be considered as a threat to society’s values and interests.
Moral panic is induced when media highlights the ethnic group or race of the individuals involved in the story and distorts the facts.When the public wants to know what really happened, one tend to look primarily at the local media and the articles that were written shortly after the incident. Due to lack of time, these articles often failed to provide an incomplete story for the audiences and oftenly leave out important facts. An example would be the Trayvon Martin case. The media reported that George Zimmerman, a white man and member of the neighborhood-watch, called 911 and shot an unarmed black man shortly afterwards without any valid reason, and was released after he claimed it was in the name of self-defence. Racial dimension was created when the broadcasting media mistakenly identified the shooter as white when George Zimmerman is actually of mixed Hispanic descent. The circulated photos of Zimmerman online has also been edited extensively by the various media groups and on all of them he is supposed to look a little whiter, to give the create and reinforce the impression that the attacker is a white man. The public was further mislead when the later media chose to miss out the fact that there was a scuffle and wrote that “The teenager was walking home from a convenience store, where he bought iced tea and Skittles, when he was shot once in the chest.” The false media again reinforced the image of black people as victims and the typical white man as the attacker. This is also linked back to the Agenda Setting Theory as the powerful media is used to filter information and distort truth, thus the public tend to perceived certain issues as more important than the other issues because media concentrate only on the few subjects they want you to see, in this case, a white man shooting a black man.
The above example has demonstrated how powerful the media can be in framing situations and suggesting them to be racially linked which will results in triggering a series of tragic events involving the community who are mislead by the distorted reports and in reality know nothing of the whole story.
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Cohen, Stanley (1972): Folk Devils and Moral Panics London: MacGibbon and Kee
USA: The Story Behind a “Racist Murder” http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/YoungPeople/CrimeAndJustice/TypesOfCrime/DG_10027721