3.6 Activity: Mugging and the media
In 1978 Stuart Hall and his co-writers (Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts) published Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, in which they argued that the growth in media coverage of crime in Britain in the early 1970s contributed to a widespread belief that there was a crisis in society, in particular to do with the sudden rise of the ‘mugger’ or street robber. The video with Professor Stuart Hall which you are now going to watch is introduced by one of Hall’s co-authors, Professor John Clarke.
As you watch the video, jot down, in your own words, some brief notes in response to the questions below. It might be helpful to watch the video all the way through once and to then watch each section in turn, pausing to make notes in response to the questions.
1. In the first section of the clip, according to Stuart Hall why do the media use labels ?
According to Stuart Hall, the media uses labels to:
- simplify things in order to make sense of complex phenomena
- focus people’s attention on something
- mobilise strong feelings
- cluster stories together even if they don’t really belong together
- create a news spiral – coverage is increased by clustering stories together
2. In the second section, ‘Crime statistics and news values’, why does Stuart Hall question the claim that crime statistics are hard facts?
Stuart Hall casts doubt on the claim that statistics are hard facts by showing how the ways in which crime statistics are defined and interpreted can alter the data. For example, there is no published figure for muggings until 1972, although the figures for muggings are then projected back to 1968. The 1968 figure, however, represents crimes which were not previously defined as muggings and probably included crimes previously included under other robbery categories. According to Hall, this shows how the label of ‘mugging’, which is not even a crime in law, has served to cluster together crimes which may not really belong together.
3. In the third section, ‘From definers to the media’, how does Stuart Hall define an ‘amplification spiral’ and what is the role of the media within it?
Stuart Hall describes the amplification spiral in the following way:
- Images in the media sensitise the public to mugging.
- The public becomes anxious and might express their fears through writing letters to the media.
- Judges refer to this public anxiety, which is then reflected in longer sentences.
- Longer sentences in turn become a news story which feeds public anxiety further.
The media, according to Hall, are not outside this amplification spiral but form an important part of it, because the media are the link between the primary definers (judges, police, politicians), the public and the news.
4. Finally, why does John Clarke argue that the work of Stuart Hall on ‘policing the crisis’ is still relevant today?
John Clarke argues that the media and the primary definers play similar roles today as they did in the 1970s. The labels might change – benefit scroungers or rioters rather than muggers – but the processes of social control remain.