This week’s topic covers the influence of the media (or lack thereof) on moral panics in our
society. A moral panic describes a panic or stress induced throughout a large group of people. Although it is fairly common and has happened regularly throughout history, it rarely yields good results.
The media has many times been socially convicted of causing these panics, but does it instigate them, or does it reflect them?
This post will introduce you to two individuals, and how their stories provoked intense media attention on the moral panic of terrorism.
Firstly, meet Arunas Raulynaitis – a Muslim bus driver. In March 2008, The Sun published a story in Britain which portrayed him as a Muslim fanatic. The story claimed he ordered the passengers off his bus so that he could pray. The passengers allegedly feared he was an extremist due to his backpack, and the story went viral, with the tagline
“Get off my bus, I need to pray”.
It appeared online, especially on Islamiphobic websites, and private footage of the man praying was posted on YouTube within hours. The video didn’t take long to reach viewers in the thousands globally, which sparked outrage globally, and a general fear of the Muslim community surfaced yet again.
As it turned out, Raulynaitis was found to have been on his break at the time, and the events outlined in the above paragraph were false – to the extent that The Sun published an apology to the man, who lost his job and livelihood over the false claims.
This an example of the media instigating a moral panic.
Or is it?
The second person I’ll be talking about is Tessa Kum, a TV content editor from Sydney. She witnessed (via social media) Rachael Jacobs’ “act of kindness” in persuading a Muslim woman, who had removed her hijab in embarrassment of the actions of the fanatics who shared her religion, to replace it. Inspired, she tweeted her support and acceptance of Australian Muslims and began the hash-tag that was to make headlines all over the country, #illridewithyou.
So is the media instigating moral panic, or overcoming it?
The #illridewithyou twitter feed became active fast, with 890 tweets each minute on the same day Tessa Kum tweeted the above. People all over the globe opted to social media to send their support, and sadness that a Muslim person should feel so ashamed of their religion they should remove their hijab or burqa.
Instead of blaming the media for instigating moral panics, we need to flip our thoughts inside out and start to think of the media as a method, and not an ingredient. This isn’t so much an issue of what the media does to society, it’s about what society does with the media. The media does not spark these unrests in the community, we do that ourselves, with the media as a platform to get these ideas across. In terms of terrorism, the media works both ways. Now that we’ve established it reflects our attitudes as a society, we can safely say that terrorism in the media reflects terrorism in the coffee house (see my post: The Clock that Struck 13 is Bugged). When social attitudes fear terrorism, cases such as that of Arunas Raulynaitis are more prone to have a headline in the news. Conversely, when social attitudes support anti-terrorist action, that is reflected in the media too.