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Moral panic?

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 13:50 UK time, Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The media's panic over knife crime isn't going away. Maybe there's a good reason.

Man holding knifeThe latest figures make it clear that the number of young men carrying and using knives is increasing sharply. Clearly there's something to be concerned about; it's not just the media's hyperbole nor does it seem like a self-correcting, short term aberration in the statistics.

But for journalists, that's only the start of it. There are other questions.

How should news organisations report the real surge in knife crime? How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture? Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy? Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?

Because the truth still remains that most of us are very, very, very unlikely to be a victim of knife crime. Most young men don't carry knives; most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the 'broken society'.

Actually, I think most of us citizens know this; we're more likely to base our understanding of the world on our own experiences of it rather than on what we read in free papers on the bus to and from work. What we do need, though, as citizens is a press that helps our civic discourse - the debates and arguments we have about problems and what needs to be done to solve them.

When I explored this in a recent edition of BBC R4's Analysis, I found a clear gap between the press we need as citizens and the press we get, driven by editors' intuition, impact and high octane attention grabbing.

It's clear that the current spate of knife crime - the reasons why young men carry knives and occasionally use them - has complex causes and will need complex solutions.

Think about it for a moment: the only explanation for the sudden rise in carrying knives is that young men who didn't use to carry them do so now. The least likely reason for that is that they have become 'evil'. The most likely is that some set of 'nudges' have persuaded otherwise balanced, law-abiding young men that it's OK to arm themselves.


The brainchild of two behavioural economists in Chicago - Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein - and an idea that's pretty trendy right now with some politicians.

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Crudely, 'nudges' are the tiny influences on our behaviour that we might not notice at the time but which make us act differently, usually to fit in with others around us: eat better, drink less or, in the case of the lavatories at Schipol airport... well, read about that for yourself.

Nudges, however, are morally neutral. And may explain why a young man who feels 1% more afraid or 5% more in need of being one-of-the-crowd changes his behaviour 100% from being unarmed to armed.

A proper public discourse to find ways of reversing this trend would be subtle and nuanced - it would think broadly about causes and possible solutions. And we know, from experiments like Today's Citizens Juries back in 2005, that if ordinary citizens are given the time and space, they have exactly the kind of subtle and nuanced discussions that we need.

But it's a debate that's inhibited, prevented even, by the tendency to polarise or simplify. According to your taste in newspapers, you learn that politicians' plans are "half-baked" or "not tough enough" or the work of a "softie softie"...and anyway, everyone knows "there's one choice - prison".

The real challenge to our media - and our press in particular - is not whether they can avoid misrepresenting or distorting knife crime: it's part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.

It's whether it is capable of reporting it in a way that helps us citizens really think hard about possible solutions; or whether it makes us feel the problem is insoluble.


  • Comment number 1.


    This is something we should moral panic about this sort of crisis...

  • Comment number 2.

    Excellent blog as always, Kevin.

    We absolutely do need a press that helps our civic discourse. For the most part, our press fails miserably at this. The broadsheets fare reasonably well, but they're read by a minority. It's the Daily Mail/Express and red-top reading people who are most betrayed, kept in the dark, and discouraged from using their heads, instead reacting from moral panic to moral panic.

    Frankly, informing the public isn't as high on these newspapers' agenda as their readers might like to think it is. Stoking fear, outrage and defeatist cynicism is the order of the day, and this is what then goes on to poison discourse as seen on platforms like the BBC's Have Your Say, where the most recommended posts often include those tell-tale phrases that could have come straight out of the Daily Mail Dictionary of Cliches. It's depressing because it's so endemic.

    The thing is, these papers are popular precisely because of this.

    Without impeding on freedom of the press or the free market (what sells), it's hard to know how to combat or challenge it in any effective way. A calm rational intelligent newspaper is doomed to failure or a tiny circulation.

    My fear is that, in being publicly accountable, the BBC will gradually lower itself to the same level of public discourse in order to make itself "accessible".

  • Comment number 3.

    You talk about the print media but no mention of the BBC's editorial line on this and every other topic.

    Lifted straight from the pages of the Guardian.

  • Comment number 4.

    You say "How should news organisations report the real surge in knife crime? "

    Real surge?

    In your story titled "Is knife crime as common as we think? "

    It states "According to the British Crime Survey (BCS), overall violent crime has decreased by 41% since a peak in 1995. Knives are used in about 8% of violent incidents, according to the BCS, a level that has largely remained the same during the past decade. "

    So please tell me, on these figures, where is the surge in knife crime? All I see is a surge in stories as the media latches onto the latest headline grabber.

    Dangerous dogs one week, data loss the next, knife crime this week, the media pack loves a moral panic.

  • Comment number 5.

    @DaveHepburn - regardless of its political leaning, the Guardian is a broadsheet that covers stories in a broadly mature way. It's certainly not perfect, nor free of bias (obviously) - but for the most part, its approach is to aim rather more for the head than for the gut. Ditto the Telegraph, its political opposite.

    The hysterical moral-panic obsessed print media I referred to - the Daily Mail, Express, Sun etc - are in a completely different league. You may not share the Guardian's political leaning, but it would be silly to suggest (as many do) that it's little more than the opposite of the Mail.

    There is a noticeable 'qualitative' difference between the two, just as there is between any tabloid and broadsheet, and political bias is irrespective of that.

    Too often, people equate anything that isn't reactionary "string 'em up" with being left wing/liberal.

    I've read articles on knife crime in the Telegraph with which I disagreed, but they were still intelligently argued and added something to the public discourse. Whereas articles on the Mail have left me angry at how poorly they're serving the intellect of their readers - simply worked them up into a frenzy of anger, but with arguments that rely heavily on appealing to their prejudice and fear, on those more primitive instincts.

    So if the BBC is more like the Guardian than the Mail, well as far as I'm concerned that's no bad thing. When you talk about the BBC's editorial line, if you're referring to a political bias, can you elaborate on how you think that plays a part in the BBC's presentation of the topic of knife crime? And can you give some concrete examples?

  • Comment number 6.

    @dotconnect, it seems we have the same division on the BBC website as you suggest in the printed press. I have become completely disillusioned with the tabloid ranting on Have Your Say which appears to attract the masses, and have recently found the hidden away attraction of the BBC blogs.

    The opinions and discussions expressed by the bloggers and comment makers seem to be far more considered and calm, leading to some reasoned debate.

    It would be nice if the BBC featured the blogs on the front page more than Have Your Say.

  • Comment number 7.

    Let's be right. Knife carriers are boys in gangs or they are wannabe gangstas. If they weren't carrying knives, they'd still be fighting over territory with another weapon.

    They live in homes where Mum keeps a baseball bat behind the door and their big brother has another one in the well of his car. (Funny how many baseball bats are sold in this country - and no-one plays the game!)

    They have a friend who has a friend who knows a bloke who can fix them up with a gun, if necessary. In the meantime, they parade around the streets, wearing the stab-proof vest that they got from Ebay.

    Their lives are so much more exciting, risk-laden, dangerous and macho than their peers (who go to school or play truant and watch daytime TV).

    Give up their knives, their status symbols and their fantasies just when they are making the news, being interviewed and filmed? You must be joking.

    I deplore the reporting of the knife-carriers. It feeds their sense of self-importance and it encourages a sense of insecurity among young boys.

    I deplore even more the response from the Government. I've sat through more initiatives in schools and clubs and street corners than I care to remember. Spare me the pointless talk around 'I was a Gangster/Drug Dealer/Car Thief once and went to prison, but I'm better now - especially with a full time job talking about my past exploits'. The time would be better spent teaching the boys to read and write.

    The journalist's time would also be better spent on more worrying crime trends. I'll give you a 'for instance':

    I don't know how many small children have been murdered by their father, in cars, as part of his suicide and a parting shot to his estranged wife. Too many, I'd say (more than the number of young boys murdered by stabbing?) but I haven't seen one single thoughtful analysis of those murders, how to stop them and how to identify potential dad-murderers.

    Good blog! Keep it up, Kevin.

  • Comment number 8.

    in my earlier blog posting!

    i forgot to mentioned that is a very important story to cover....

    and thank you and the bbc [and all who was involved] in bringing this fine piece of story together for the public.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've been to London this week. I made it back without being stabbed, mugged, beaten up, having my mobile stolen or indeed anything else untoward happening.

    I wouldn't NORMALLY see this as worthy of note, only the media coverage generally seems to imply that you can't travel more than about 30 yards without coming across a stabbing...

    I'm not doubting it's a serious issue, but the perceived incidence is overblown because of the focus on 'yet another knife attack' as opposed to 'out of 60 million people, less than x% have been involved in knife crime'. Perhaps when it is being reported, we could benefit from a bit of perspective?

  • Comment number 10.

    Plastered across today's Daily Mail front page in big letters...

    Shock figures reveal blade violence is spreading everywhere"

    Well that's responsible isn't it? It might as well just say "Be afraid, be very afraid" and leave it at that.

    The article is no better, and does little to inform its readers, but - as always with the Mail - much to scare them.

    So many of the electorate are blasted daily with this stuff, it's no wonder our politicians opt for tabloid-friendly kneejerk responses to the latest panic.

    I don't want to turn this into a Mailwatch thread, but as one of the country's biggest selling newspapers (after The Sun), it does illustrate perfectly how 'the public debate' is being so poorly served.

    What with being spoonfed a regular diet of "we're all going to die!" crime, all the foods that will allegedly cause us cancer, the asylum seekers that are taking our homes, the benefit scroungers bleeding our pockets dry, the army of offended Muslims apparently out to turn Britain into an Islamic state, and general fear of anything new (wasn't it Google maps a couple of days ago?) I'm surprised your average Mail reader can bear to open the curtains in the morning.

    Measured analysis - even simple facts - seem so hard to come by, don't they?

    The fact that the BBC has not yet sunk to this level of discourse is not evidence of a liberal bias; it's evidence of an attempt to retain some standards. The BBC doesn't always get it right, and it dismays me when I see its news agenda apparently being impacted by the tabloids - but it's still a long way off being anything like as bad, and at least offers a good amount of balanced analysis and facts behind any questionable editorial decisions.

    Civic discourse indeed.

  • Comment number 11.

    Knives don't kill people, people kill people. Blows the whole argument by Europeans and American leftists for gun control right out of the water.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Let's be right. Knife carriers are boys in gangs or they are wannabe gangstas. If they weren't carrying knives, they'd still be fighting over territory with another weapon."

    Ignoring the fact that you think girls don't carry knives this is a massive over simplification. The majority of people carrying knives are scared kids who see the media reporting that your 'gangsta's' are roaming the streets and arm themselves with a steak knife in the deluded belief that it will keep them safe if 'mugged'

    Rather like women with handbag guns in the US the truth is that an untrained person trying to use a weapon in self defence just massively increases the odds of themselves getting killed, probably with their own weapon.

  • Comment number 13.

    "Knives don't kill people, people kill people. Blows the whole argument by Europeans and American leftists for gun control right out of the water."

    I agree with the first sentence but not the second.

    A gun is a tool for killing people. A tool makes a job easier. You can kill someone with a bottle or half a brick, but its a damn site easier with an AK47. Fundamentally the question is would you be happier if the perpetrators of these recent knife attacks had assault weapons? I wouldn't.

    The other problem with guns is that they tend to miss and the bullet can go through a wall half a mile away. At least with knife attacks its rare for someone in the next street to be 'collateral damage'

  • Comment number 14.

    "The media's panic over knife crime isn't going away. Maybe there's a good reason"

    Of course there is; it meets all the criteria for lurid headlines and endless speculation - cheap'n easy "news" for the tabloids.

    "Think about it for a moment: the only explanation for the sudden rise in carrying knives is that young men who didn't use to carry them do so now"

    No sh**, Sherlock. Do you have a masters degree in the bl**ding obvious?

    This patronising guff would be better left to the Guardian but having lumbered yourself with this blog, I expect you feel obliged to write even when there's nothing to say. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with silence. Give it a try. Please.

  • Comment number 15.

    The name of the game is to debase the government.
    Any topic which can be used to entrench the general mood of a government in trouble is thrown at the reader.
    Political. 'Twas ever thus in the 'meedja'.

  • Comment number 16.

    "the truth remains that most of us are still very, very, very unlikely to be the victim of knife crime". Statistically true, but no consolation whatsoever to those few dozen people who, it is statistically certain, will be stabbed to death in the next year.

    A one in a million chance event becomes a certainty when millions are subjected to that level of risk. It's no excuse to downplay the problem of knife-crime just because we are individually still within our own statistical comfort zone.

    A strong but irrational human instinct is to care less for randomly selected victims than for predicted victims. Imagine the reaction if the names and faces of these future victims were known and pubicised in the press and on TV in advance of their fate. We would see immediate action on all those measures we are now told are impossible, impractical, too expensive, contary to Human Rights, etc.

  • Comment number 17.

    "the truth remains that most of us are still very, very, very unlikely to be the victim of knife crime". Statistically true, but no consolation whatsoever to those few dozen people who, it is statistically certain, will be stabbed to death in the next year.

    A one in a million chance event becomes a certainty when millions are subjected to that level of risk. It's no excuse to downplay the problem of knife-crime just because we are individually still within our own statistical comfort zone.

    A strong but irrational human instinct is to care less for randomly selected victims than for predicted victims. Imagine the reaction if the names and faces of these future victims were known and pubicised in the press and on TV in advance of their fate. We would see immediate action on all those measures we are now told are impossible, impractical, too expensive, contary to Human Rights, etc.

  • Comment number 18.

    I see today you have a story on "Police-recorded crime down by 9% " which states "All the main categories were down, including violent crime".

    I ask again, on what evidence do you base you statement "How should news organisations report the real surge in knife crime?"

    What real surge? Where is your evidence?

    You are supposed to be the head of the BBC College of Journalism yet is seems you are making stories up. Some facts please, or don't they matter at the BBC these days.

  • Comment number 19.

    'Wide variations' in Ritalin use'
    BBC News - 17Jul2008

    Ritalin prescribed to 144 children in every 1000' on The Wirral.

    So how many other children are on Melatonin or some other drug?

    As an end result, how many children's lives are not affected by drugs?

    Is it a good idea to produce a generation of children who are drugged as a way of life?

    How many youngsters caught up in knife and other crime, are also drugged? I think the result would be surprising to most people.

    What are we doing to the next generation, with our drugging GPs and stupid unworkable lack of well-defined rules; a teaching profession which is encouraged to whimp out of its stated 'professionalism'; a denial of any moral value, by our public leaders; and the rushing of children towards the Court door.

    You get what you 'pay' for in this life. We seem to have paid for knife crime, by our own irresponsibility; in double-standards; in legislation; in voting; in ripping apart the family life by forcing mothers out to work (as a feminist gesture), to the point where children 'rear' themselves; and finally in a gross lack of education, in what is claimed to be a civilised society.

    With no-one taking responsibility, is it surprising that children and young people physically act out the horrible televisual and internet fantasies?

    Since their playing fields were sold off, its probably the only exercise they get.

  • Comment number 20.

    It wasn’t that long ago that the media brought to the attention of the public, reports that anti-social behaviour amongst our children and young adults was getting out of control. This was followed by gun crime, and now knife crime. In short, our children are killing and fighting each other and anyone who gets in their way. Society has failed them and many do not understand what is happening, so they look to lay the blame on parents and the children themselves, in fact, anyone or anywhere but themselves.

    Many believe that drugs and alcohol are the causes, when in fact these things have served to suppress a far greater rebellion. A person who is addicted will think only of where their next fix is coming from and how they will get it. An addiction is a trap, an overwhelming desire that rules over the will of a person. For many of our children, the only comfort available is in drugs, alcohol and their friends who share their circumstances.


    Our children are brought up in a consumer society. They are overwhelmed by advertising in a world that judges a person on their material acquisitions. They have been conditioned to strive for wealth and power, to obtain security and pleasure and when they fail, due to not being in a position to compete, or in seeing the overwhelming competition by those more fortunate, they are left behind to survive in other ways.

    The response of those more fortunate is to hand out conformity projects, condemnation or more suffering through punishment. It is not the way that they would treat their own children. The children left behind are not understood so they are stamped on.

    The truth is that those in power, ‘the haves’, do not care about the ‘have nots’ until they become a threat. You can blame the parents as much as you like. You blamed them as children, you blamed their children and you will blame the children’s children, but you will achieve nothing but resentment and hate. Or you can give up some of your pleasure for everyone’s security.

    Our children that have been left behind see only one way to regain their self worth and that is with each other. Their role models are those who were in their position, and yet found a way up the ladder to respect, through the acquisition of wealth and power through drugs or violence. Why are there gangs? Because both trust and the pickings are small, and the territory is divided and claimed.

    Society has two options:

    You can think only of your own security and pleasure, by leaving children without hope, sleeping on the streets homeless, and adding to their pain and hate by punishing or imprisoning them, condemning them instead of putting yourself in their place and understanding them, but do not expect things not to get worse.

    Or you can cure the cause, instead of ignoring or stamping on the resulting and worsening symptoms. Victims will always create more victims. If you sit a hungry child at a table full of food, and while you yourself are eating, you say ‘do not touch it for is mine’, what do you expect to happen?

    I was raised in poverty on a council estate (social housing), in a one parent family and in my teens, there were street gangs. My education was poor, in fact it was a place I disliked due to the oppression. So unlike many who claim to speak for the children, I actually understand their attitude.
    There are far too many do-gooders today who have got their information out of books, and are doing more harm than good. Many are led to believe that children today are selfish, unloving and without conscience, love or empathy, but from what I have seen, there is a love so great amongst most of the children that it shames the rest of society. When they rebel, it is due to the lack of love that they receive.

    Society looks at those who are killing, hurting and rebelling, and they do not understand that this is how society has conditioned them, your society, our society. They are our responsibility, we are the cause, and we shall be judged on all of our children, not just the privileged. Your security and pleasure is in all of the children’s security and pleasure, we reap what we sow.

    The children

    To the children who have been left behind, I will say:
    Choose love and let the shame and guilt remain with those who left you ‘behind’, for that is where it belongs. Do not be like those who left you behind, the ones who are like animals fighting over the food that never satisfies, (power and wealth). Don’t pass on the hatred that you have inherited.

    For more knowledge and truth about the world you can visit my website or if you are wary of clicking links please just type in love-themeaningoflife into google and you will find the website on top.
    Kind regards

  • Comment number 21.

    Good blog Kevin.
    I don't watch the news on television, so I've thankfully avoided a lot of the hype/fear mongering over the knife epidemic. It's life as normal for me, but not for many of my coworkers, some of whom have had discussions about getting pepper spray, or one woman even wanted a Taser.
    I guess kids are thinking along the same lines, quickly arming themselves in case they get caught up in this knife craze.
    I get the impression the media have been a major nudge in fueling the knife problem.
    Stop watching television news and you'll discover the whole problem pretty much disappears.

  • Comment number 22.

    #7 Wheresmyticket

    "I don't know how many small children have been murdered by their father, in cars, as part of his suicide and a parting shot to his estranged wife. "

    Eloquently put!

    Given the propensity for the tabloid press and TV stations to "over egg the pudding" when it comes to reporting all types of scenarios, could we not be experiencing a general apathy (similar to that for politics) amongst the public?

    In essence, are the press having to sensationalise some crimes in an attempt to shift copy, rather than to actually represent the reality of what is occurring on the streets?

  • Comment number 23.

    During a recent BBC 2 News programme when she interviewed the sister of a stab victim, Emma Maitlis posed the question as to just why there should have been this explosion in knife crime about 18 months ago.

    Well at that time I was appalled at the way that the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade was used as an opportunity to bring out some of the most shocking pieces of the campaign material produced by William Wilberforce and his team and present them as he did- as if we have no greater understanding of African history than the almost total ignorance and prejudice in which that information was gathered.

    It is an issue that greatly troubled the pupils that I taught often straight from the West Indies in the late Sixties, for the whole slavery experience was still a deep trauma; and it was a trauma not least because the Wilberforce model only works on the basis of Wilberforce's low evaluation of the African people and their culture, as he made clear in one of the pieces of his most famous speech that was left out - because it is too offensive and insulting to African people and to African history.

    The bicentenary was also I believe marked by a re-issue of "Roots" and its scenes of Kunta Kinti running around in a jungle, helpless to resist the efforts of a small crew of European slave-raiders. The only logical conclusion a young person must draw from this is that the Africans were pretty useless and incapable of defending themselves against such developments that went on for a couple of hundred years. At least Kunta Kinti should have had a knife to "take one with him" as Winston Churchill advised his daughter- in- law during the Second World War when a German invasion seemed imminent.

    Of course this has only acted as such a powerful trigger because as other posters have pointed out there are many other deep-seated problems.

    As Naomi Klein chronicled in "No Logo" the liberalisation of capitalist economics that followed the end of the Cold War resulted in a widening gap between rich and poor, not least within the Afro-American community in the USA. Black Upwardly Mobile people were able to get out of the ghettos, just as people in Britain responded to Thatcherism and "the Iron Lady's" concerns about the inner cities by also getting out if they could.

    Ms Klein explains clearly how this resulted in an urban guerrilla mentality- a fight back connected with a new and violent street and club culture connected with "Rap" and "Hip Hop" and making use of the recycled urban debris . This was something that had global commercial appeal and was taken up by global brands that marketted this street culture, a new youth culture in streets and clubs that had been abandoned by the adults- and often by the police too.

    Of course comedians like Harry Enfield made a joke of the "terrible teenagers", who would eventually grow into perfectly reasonable adults: but there has also been a trend in comedy programmes to feature "men behaving badly" and at one time the "A Team" programmes were full of women saying how useless and unrealiable men are, and how they are often better off without a man in their lives. The single Mum is better off with just herself and her children. But boys do not remain children. Eventually they must accept their destiny and become one of these useless men. But who is to teach them manhood?

    As one of my pupils later wrote " Blood, blood. Dread beat and blood. Twas war amongst the outcasts.


  • Comment number 24.

    I am really intrigued by the notion of "nudges" but prefer to apply it in the opposite direction.

    First, someone ran a red light without getting caught. They were in a sweat for a day or so but then they "nudged" their mates in a bravado manner. Pretty soon all their mates were running red lights for fun. One got caught once in a while and was harshly treated (for five minutes) and then let off with a paltry fine. They soon "nudged" their mates about what it's like being caught and showing bravado in court.

    Soon they started a game of what other traffic offences you can commit without being caught, "nudging" others to believe the more serious the offence the better. Pretty soon the "nudging" touched on knocking down pedestrians for fun.....

    So that may inform us as to how we messed up through not applying zero tolerance on day one but it doesn't say much else.

    This whole debate is about boundaries and how you set them. A child is always wanting to push the boundary a little further and if there is no constraint then they will eventually slip beyond control.

    I am fearful of any group of people who depends on the "number of reported offences" as a measure of the seriousness of a problem. One death is a serious problem - period. It is not a case of hysteria, it is a case of devastating and real fact for the parents of that one person who dies. Stop trying to apply intellectual argument to a real and present danger for each and every one of us.

  • Comment number 25.


    Re. your last paragraph - actually it IS a case of hysteria, because what we're talking about in this blog is HOW these things are reported, not the fact that they're reported.

    It's the difference between constructive/informative vs damaging/uninformative (gratuitous, even).

    You say:
    "Stop trying to apply intellectual argument to a real and present danger"

    Frankly, this contempt so many people in this country seem to hold for "intellectual argument" is why so many of us remain in a state of ignorance and why the 'public discourse' remains so low. We badly need to get over this habit of dismissing anything that isn't pure emotion as "oh, that's just intellectual argument". As if intellect isn't required when discussing real issues. It badly is, and we badly need more of it.

  • Comment number 26.

    If you believe that Capitalism should be completely unhampered in its pursuit of profit.
    If you believe that journalists should be allowed to make their mark by expressing opinions instead of facts.
    If you believe that media supported by political entities should be allowed complete freedom to mislead.
    If you believe that media once held in high respect can only survive by joining the rabble.
    What is your problem?

  • Comment number 27.

    "If you believe that journalists should be allowed to make their mark by expressing opinions instead of facts."

    I do. Thats kind of the whole point of these BBC blogs. The only problem comes when an opinion is presented as being a fact or when selected facts are published while others are hidden to support opinions being presented as facts.

  • Comment number 28.

    The press is there to highlight the concerns of society especially danger,crime and justice. The carrying of knives or guns for that matter is totally unnecessary. Laws are there to deter criminals or people with bad intent from using lethal weapons. The press is a watch-dog which alerts the law authoririties and citizens of gross violence.So we should encourage debate based on facts and statistics. The press has accurate sources and is duty-bound to inform its readers. So do not condemn the messenger but concentrate on the perpetrators of knife and gun crime. Society should be protected in effective ways. The press needs to do its job.

  • Comment number 29.


    This isn't about downplaying crime or denying the message. This isn't about shooting the messenger. It's about how the message is conveyed.

    Your last sentence reads: "The press needs to do its job."

    You omit a final word: "...properly".

    That's the point people keep missing. No-one's calling for the press to ignore anything. Some of us are just pointing out the lack of responsible reporting. Measured reporting. Rational reporting.

    Hysteria and scaremongering is not the press doing its job (if by 'doing its job' you mean informing and educating).

  • Comment number 30.

    "The press has accurate sources and is duty-bound to inform its readers."

    Shame it doesn't do quite a lot of the time and instead makes up stories about muslims/immigrants/Diana instead just to sell papers.

  • Comment number 31.

    Regarding the accuracy of press sources, I must say that I have given up watching Panorama,which is sad because I regarded it as a real window on the world when I was growing up.. But it is increasingly obvious that modern journalism means looking at the files to find someone who made a "real stink" about something and were very happy to get lots of media attention, and use them to put forward one thesis, that can then be countered by someone else who was making a stink about something that would lead in a totally different direction. It is just like those programmes that bring together explosive weirdos on stage together- a la Gerry Springer- in the reasonable expectation that they could get something explosive on screen.

    Most of these cases involve unusual, exceptional, or extreme circumstances and leads to the sensationalisation of our current affairs. Exceptions to the rule may be useful when you have some idea of what "the rule" and normality is.

    Mind you this serves a purpose, because their is a kind of complicity that is almost underlined by the recent award of more than half a million pounds to Mr Murat- I still think of that as more than a life's earnings! But I suppose the newspapers make that kind of money out of such stories.

    The point has been made several times on this thread, but here goes-

    [a]"Gothic horror" in print has been very marketable for more than two hundred years- people might like "good news", but they feel driven to read bad news- for fear of being unprepared.

    [b] Governments back in that Age of Gothic Horror- the French Revolution- were happy to have people scared because it increased national cohesion, compliance with infringements of individaul rights, and a feeling of dependence on the protecting powers of the state. So the worse the news the easier politics becomes because the "need to do something immediate" becomes obvious.

    [c] There is a definite benefit to both politicians and the individuals, when people manage to establish themselves as victims of some kind in a cruel and unmanageable world. We have established the idea that sel f-help and self-reliance are no longer appropriate expectations, and we face the fact that we may soon be borrowing up to 40% of GDP in order to "invest" [ Mr Brown's favourite term] in state provisions that include providing for people who have taken to heart this idea that the individual is really helpless in the modern world, and failing any other kind of support they are entitled to be totally dependent upon the state.


  • Comment number 32.

    Even Mediabistro saw it!

    See the response link. It makes the

    New Yorker cartoon look like child's play : }

  • Comment number 33.

    How many times have I to read the word "hysteria" on here as if it is fact. The showing of "emotion" after the death of Diana was most certainly "hysteria", but I cannot agree with anyone who thinks the situation over knives is anything like "hysteria".

    The media have reported things with "sensational imagery" for a long time, and we even have police officers adding their fourpenny worth after trials and convictions now. This does not, however, influence most people, and with due respect to dotconnect, it is intellectual pseudo-babble that drove the social engineering experiment that has got us where we are today.

    The moment we started the image game when Maggie told us that tarting up streets would make us feel proud we lost our hearts and souls to the Devil. All working people need hope and so do their children. They should not be lied to by their political representatives that if they do well at school there will be a good job waiting for them. Maybe someone will think that working in a supermarket is great but there are many others who will feel that their hard work has been wasted. I see far too many good people every working day who have been totally let down by the system not to understand what is wrong. It is the fact that our ruling classes and the media that panders to them are totally and utterly out of touch with the reality of 21C Britain.

  • Comment number 34.

    re: 25 by dotconnect

    The purveyor of information to the public should be the BBC, the only media in the UK that has no need to compete against commercial alternatives. Sadly the BBC has allowed itself to be overtaken by the same obsession with PC values that this Government has foisted on its population. That means that the information supplied by the BBC is seldom challenged in on-air argument/discussion between leading players. It also means that the BBC plays to popular comment rather than anything that challenges its own values.

    Over a decade ago Channel4 carried a documentary on "feral" youth on a council estate somewhere in Britain. The programme gave the clearest evidence of crumbling social values and youth "out of control". The focus was largely the elderly and the homosexual but showed signs of going further into complete lawlessness.

    What has been achieved since? Is the situation better or worse. Is the truth that not one intellectual knows because the information relied on has been tampered and packaged for public consumption? Could it be that intellectuals sit rather to comfortably removed from it? Could the answers actually be very simple but require some relatively well off people to give up a little of what they have?

    For the most part journalists get well paid. For the most part media proprietors play on margins meaning that mediocrity rules. For the most part the leading UK companies have an iron grip on our disposable incomes, and what they do not extract from us the Government will tease away any which way it can.

    For the most part we have a huge number of young people for whom there is literally nothing to look forward to. No need to be intellectual is there? These people already know the truth.

  • Comment number 35.

    Bully_baiter (33),

    Hysteria: barely controllable excitement, overdramatic - I'd say it's pretty close judging by my reading of the popular press (by which I mean the likes of the Mail and the Sun) over the last few weeks. Unnecessarily scaremongering, mawkish and sensational can also be added to that.

    Interesting that you choose to use the phrase "intellectual pseudo-babble". It's common to deride and dismiss any notion of intellect in that way, as if there is no other kind than waffle. I'm not sure whether that was your intention or not.

    I'm certainly not calling for an influx of out-of-touch academics sat in their ivory armchairs pontificating on everyday matters that affect us mere mortals, or a conversation between the press and the reader that can only be decrypted by a PhD graduate and has been drained of all emotion.

    What I am saying is that the present coverage of issues needs to be calmer, more measured, more balanced, more truthful. It needs to rely rather less on the gut and rather more on the brain. Not in an elitist sense, not to the extent that only "int-el-lec-tuals" can understand it. It just needs to stop deceiving us.

    It may well not be in the nature of the popular press to present stories in that way, but I'll certainly take every opportunity to air my dissatisfaction about it. I've never been convinced by the argument that the press doesn't greatly influence public opinion. I think it does, to a far greater degree than many people realise or are willing to admit, even if the direction of influence is two-way.

    ObsoleteExocet (34), not sure how to respond to your post which seems to be more derision of the concept of intellect. I'm simply asking for a more intellectual approach to reporting, a more reason-based one. And less deception.

    Honestly, I feel strongly that people deserve better, otherwise they remain in a position of fear and ignorance.

  • Comment number 36.

    re-35 dotconnect

    Thank you for your response.

    My belief is that people, through their elected representatives, should run the country. Sadly that has ceased to be the case largely because the House of Commons no longer represents the vast majority of people in the UK. New Labour was re-elected on less than one in four votes and pays lip service to its public whilst spending vast fortunes on consultants who claim their prizes for either coming up with a novel idea doomed to failure or, worse, for stating the obvious.

    These consultants are largely academic supporters of New Labour. Many occupy hugely well paid jobs in the civil service. I'd say they are largely intellectual. Where do they get their information from? They go to public funded groups who will foster whatever is needed to guarantee further sponsorship and security.

    Who speaks for the vast majority of the people who didn't even bother to turn up for the last general election not because they were apathetic (some were) but because they are disenfranchised. So the anti-Government media milks this angry throng of people who are tired of not being listened to. It is still overpaid journalists doing little or nothing to extract detail but simply hanging onto a few loose facts that actually do prove the rule.

    None of that is hysteria in the media. Frustration it may well be; overstatement it may be but I do not see people running around in my relatively working class environment panicking. We have gotten used to it; we have learned as best we can how to avoid areas of danger, but that does not make it go away.

    A few days ago a gang of youths attacked two CSOs in Croydon. One CSO was bitten, both feared for their lives. That is not sensation it is fact - in broad daylight in a large town with many, many people around to witness it. You do not need to spin the story because it speaks for itself.

    I have been complaining about police presence and attitude to my various MPs for many years and nothing changes. I have witnessed police incompetence, apathy and insensitivity, all contributory to our present day malaise. No hysteria, just my intelligent observation as an ordinary human being just like countless others.

    It would be very wise for many more people to realise that if the current situation is not turned around soon then we may be seeing riots and chaos of an order not seen before. It cannot be allowed to continue as it is - that is fact not hysteria. If the media make the day come around when we have that much needed sea change sooner than it would otherwise come then they have my blessing however they achieve it.

  • Comment number 37.

    I found obsolete++ remarks particularly relevant to what I have tried to do with my life.

    I had the "Neil Kinnock experience" that the founders of the Welfare State wished to make possible (working class child gets to university) , and then decided to go with my academic qualifications into the deprived inner city and live and work with the reality of the problems that had vexed British society from Victorian times.

    I had made a point of resisting the danger of allowing middle class socialists and communists to claim me and weld me to their simplistic Victorian doctrines; and tried to learn from my pupils as much as they taught me. Of course our Sixties generation had questioned a great deal and there was as Professor Plumb put it a "Crisis in the Humanities"- which really came down to the fact that we had lost our confidence in our grasp of just how human beings interacted.

    As obsolete++ seems to imply- I felt that people who stayed in academic ivory towers and tried to model realities by statistics, documents and the like were out of touch with and therefore divorced from reality. And I have spent more than 40 years trying to integrate my intellectual and my "real" knowledge. By about 12 years ago I started to approach publishers; but to date no-one is interested and I have been told that there is no obvious market for ideas in modern Britain.. though a parent who works for the World Bank has apparently used bits of a pamphlet that I wrote on "The re-Discovery of Social Man".

    Someone has remarked on a history site that reading my stuff is like being run over by a juggernaut... But then, as the current price inflation is showing us, we live in a juggernaut age. Perhaps that is why young people are over-reacting when faced with confrontational situations, and possibly the adult world is over-reacting too.


  • Comment number 38.

    I felt Lisa Jardine made some good points in this piece.

    In a nutshell, "Alarming stories of a rise in knife crime + lack of confidence in understanding statistics = more fear for ourselves and our children".

    This gets to the heart of why I feel all who have their perception of a topic like knife crime heavily informed and guided by the popular press are being let down. This isn't about academics, it's not, in this respect, about politicians. It's not even about "intellectuals". It's about the approach taken by the press, and how they are for the most part leaving the public poorly informed and in a state of largely unnecessary fear. Conversations with neighbours and family members have borne out this sense that knife crime has shot through the roof and as a result, all of us are now at risk just walking to the shops. That's simply not the case.

    Yes each incident represents a very real tragedy, and no-one would deny that knife crime isn't a serious problem that deserves to have the spotlight shone very sharply on it. But the key here is perspective. Scale. Balance. Neither of those realities justifies deceiving the public about the actual scale ("epidemic"?) and nature of the threat, whether that's through reckless language or through omission of facts or through insufficiently presenting statistical data to attain the most sensational coverage. If normal everyday people have a problem with figures and data, then the sources from whom they largely get their information - the popular press - are perfectly placed to break it down and explain it, and - where necessary - alleviate unnecessary fears.

    Going back to the Jardine piece, in particular, she quotes Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Alf Hitchcock who points out that "it is just such 'fear' of what might happen in the next encounter, on the next street corner, that drives school-age boys to carry knives in the first place".


    "Only 15% of knife-carriers intend to take part in crime or gang activity. The other 85% carry knives out of fear, in a world where they believe nobody else is there to protect them. In both cases, fear drives rational, responsible behaviour out of the frame."

    "The problems that underlie the apparent casual carrying and use of knives by young teenagers have deep roots. To begin to solve them, the debate has to be brought back from headline-grabbing expressions of moral panic and social despair, to a clear-headed and reasonable debate about long-term solutions."

    I couldn't agree more.

    (apologies if the formatting of the above messed up)
  • Comment number 39.

    #6 #34

    There is a need to have different (and perhaps jolting) thoughts. These can provoke ordinary folk to better action.

    As the poster indicated, the WHYS is very disappointing, but serves, perhaps, to increase the audience and "hits".

    WHYS management has a problem with (a) a very strong pro-Israel bias (b) basic journalistic ethics (c) intellectual incompetence. Naturally, their retention of good personnel appears to be a consequential problem.

    A previous poster also indicated the qualitative difference and real worth in some of the blogs.

    Perhaps one solution would be to encourage more those blogs where this is evident.

    Some outstanding news programs now reroute their feedback to the WHYS blog. This can be seen as a mistake from several angles. Minding the blog might be a good workout for an aspiring journalist, if the lead people cannot give enough time to them.

  • Comment number 40.

    The media seems to offer conflicting views of many subjects and this causes confusion, and so the value of the information is diluted. Knife crime is one example. One minute we are told knife crime is rising , the next minute it is falling. (Another example of conflicting information is obesity and conversely children as young as eight or worried about being fat). Anyway back to knife crime. The problem with this diversion in conversation which some people believe is government spin is it will end up delaying action being taken over knife crime (whether it is rising or falling). And action does need to be taken and fast - whether it is rising or falling.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think those working front line tackling youth crime, poverty and more simply boredom need to become more professional.

    This would start with the caliber of youth workers for example. The standard of education and practical experience is not particularly the highest of standards, and the wages are not enticing to get 'more suitable' people to tackle the problem.

    It's a scary reality that we now face. Even the young people I work with are seriously alarmed at the amount of knife crime (or the increasing frequency of the reporting of it). Many (not a small %) have even stopped going out after early evening - I'm talking 16-22 year olds - not young teens. They fear that it could be them next, and this is not limited exclusively to inner city areas. This is contagious and will spread unless the need to carry a knife is removed, and the support staff to young people are able and clever enough to work with them.

  • Comment number 42.

    Of course there's a good reason why the media's panic over knife crime isn't going to go away. The media have discovered that stories about knife crime sell newspapers.

    As other posters have pointed out, there is remarkably little evidence that we are all being over-run by hordes of knife-wielding maniacs.

    Wouldn't it be nice if every story that appeared in the media about knife crime that gave the statistics for the numbers of victims of knife crime in a given period also gave statistics for the numbers killed or injured in road traffic crashes in the same period? That might add a bit of perspective.

  • Comment number 43.

    Knife crime? With all the raging gun battles here in Los Angeles, I haven't thought much about knives. Road rage on L.A. freeways is another area of chronic violence where knives are never employed. Road rage folks usually use semi-automatics (Tec 9s, etc.).

    Well... as they say in L.A. "Have a nice day!"

  • Comment number 44.

    The main reason for a youth carrying a knife is that the media have told them that all of their peers are carrying them too so they need to protect themselves. what better defence than using the same weapon as your attacker?

    stop the media scaring the life out of these youths then they will not have the need for knives


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