Fearmongering: the media’s creation of fear in the general public

Oct 4, 2023
Breaking news on tv. Man watching live television broadcast program.

It has often been suggested that the LNP have always used an underlying fear and insecurity in the general public as a means of securing voting support on the basis that they offer better protection against external and internal threats. Typically, these threats are left vague, yet it is wholly evident that the main stream media is intent on ramping up China as an external threat and Middle East and youth crime gangs as an internal threat. Is Climate Change presented as a threat to our security? Rarely, and usually in an entirely non-systematic manner.

Such visceral fear – I say visceral because it is usually not spelled out in any detail or historically contextualised – is given strong support by the commercial television news presentations, usually at about 6 pm but at other times as well. These almost always begin with a reporting of a violent crime, a potential kidnapping or description of the activities of youth crime gangs in the outer suburbs of our cities. Police are inevitably interviewed and if it is a household robbery or an act of violence in a particular house, near neighbours are interviewed and the (often justifiable) fear they experience is stressed. Sometimes there are even live camera shots of a crime being committed, especially if it occurs in a retail location.

On the Channel 7 news in particular those who are affected by the criminal activity are frequent called “innocent victims”, heightening the gap between such victims – and the general public – and the perpetrators of the crimes.

Whilst such activities have always been reported they now seem to occupy about twenty percent of the news coverage. In my view, the intention is to present individual events with accompanying police comments and local comments as local events occurring in specific areas. These are especially the more depressed outer suburbs with greater numbers of recent migrant intake, and with the underlying implication that there is some connection between these and that they are an expression of consistent crime waves that could spring up anywhere. Statistics as to the commonality of these are never offered and broader socio-economic contexts are completely ignored.

The print media cannot present moving pictures nor humanise the whole thing by showing the immediate reactions of those potentially affected by the crime. This is not so on the electronic media. It is dominated by pictures and an accompanying oral commentary whether given by the reporter or the subjects of the report. Above all this manner of reporting sustains a continuous visceral feeling of insecurity, one normally lying beneath the surface of most people’s consciousness, and therefore strongly available for exploitation.

Another effect of the focus on this kind of–what we might call “human interest”–crime is that it deflects public attention away from white collar crime and associated grey corruption. Both have now become very prominent in certain countries where neoliberal values have reigned supreme. In part, this apparent refusal to give as much airplay to these “non-human interest” crimes is because their underlying effect on the individual is much less visible than crimes of violent robbery, car theft or home invasion. Equally the financial interests who control the commercial news channels operate with the same socio-economic classes as some of the most egregious white-collar criminals. This is not to say they are criminals themselves, just that they seek to sustain the economic/cultural system in which this kind of activity flourishes.

Finally, it allows them to ignore completely such fundamental problems as climate change. Even where they will report, replete with frightening pictures, floods and wild-fires, it is extremely uncommon that these are contextualised within the broader frame of climate change which is definitely a factor in the increasing frequency of these events. If fear about climate change is becoming increasingly common in the consciousness of younger people, it is a fear that commercial electronic media has not yet begun to exploit. For to do so, might mean providing proper context and detailing what can be done about it on a large scale. However, this would go against the dictates of the interests that own them.

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!