This essay examines the issue of bullying in schools from a sociological perspective. It begins by examining the definition of bullying and proceeds to briefly discuss the extent of the problem, its consequences and the use of intervention plans. Furthermore, by comparing and contrasting press and internet coverage of this issue, it explores how the media in Australia report bullying in school. The essay ends with an explanation of the similarities and differences between those media outlets. In addition, it examines the role of media in influencing public opinion in regards to this social issue.
Bullying is a term that has been difficult to define because it is open to different interpretations. Another issue defining this behaviour is, establishing at what point a certain behaviour becomes bullying (Kowalski, 2003).
However, it is generally agreed that bullying is the “systematic abuse of power in interpersonal relations,” (Rigby & Coosje, 2009).
According to Kids Help Line, bullying is defined as, “Deliberate psychological and/or physical harassment of one person by another, or a group, occurring at school or in transit between school and home. Includes exclusion from peer group, intimidation, extortion and violence” (Kids Help Line, 2010).
Bullying has various negative consequences. There is mounting evidence that bullying has both physical and psychological consequences on the health of the victims. They experience depression and low esteem, and are more likely to act aggressively towards the wider society while they are at school, and after leaving school (Rigby, 2003).
... had once been thought to be an urban public school problem; a consequence of poverty and family dysfunction, but stable suburban ... violence as they mature. Early discussions about the negative consequences of gang membership, and providing children with positive ways ... dispel fears and help teachers feel supported, meetings about violence issues are held regularly, possibly as a component of general ...
The worst aspect of bullying is that it can lead to suicide (Byrne, 1994).
All of this affects the general school climate. Students who are victimized often consider school to be unsafe which can lead to student absentees (Banks, 1997).
Research indicate that about half of school attending children have experienced some degree of bullying, and reports estimate that in Australia, one child in six is bullied on a weekly basis (Rigby, 1998).
Data gathered by Kids Help Line (KHL) indicate that bullying is the fourth most common reason for young people to call KHL and it is ranked second most common reason for children under 10 years of age (Kids Help Line, 2010).
Another area of growing concern is cyber bullying. Studies reveal that in Year 4 to Year 9, 10 percent of students reported being cyber bullied in the previous term (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2010), and it is the fasted growing kind of abusive behaviour (Rigby, n.d.).
Worldwide, individuals, organised groups and governments are challenging bullying behaviour. In Australia, anti-bullying policies are being administered in schools, along with interventions such as the Method of Shared Concern (Rigby & Coosje, 2009).
Other approaches include restorative justice which involves integrating students back into the community (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2002).
Bullying is a major concern for educators, parents and legislators. It affects the ability of students to progress academically and socially. Recent surveys of intervention programs undertaken by schools have been disappointing, although in some schools they have been successful in reducing by up to 60 percent (Rigby & Coosje, 2009).
In order to tackle this social issue, a comprehensive intervention plan that involves not only the school but also the community at large is required (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2002).
The issue of bullying in school is reported by various media outlets and to a significant extent public opinion is shaped, or even orchestrated, due to the way it is reported (Field, 2006).
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For the purpose of this essay, I have chosen to compare and contrast Sydney’s three leading news outlets; The Sydney Morning Herald online, The Daily Telegraph, and the ABC news online. The areas of comparison are made by their use of language, headlines, images, and their tone and agenda setting.
In July 25, 2008, a teenager by the name of Alex Wildman died as a result of bullying and this case was covered by the above mentioned media outlets. The Daily Telegraph headline read, “Cyber bullying is every school’s responsibility,” (Cummings, 2010).
The article included a portrait photograph of the the dead teenager that drew the attention of the reader and evoked an emotional response. There was bias through the use of names and titles and by their choice of words and tone (Fields, 2006).
For instance, the tone of the article was negative and targeted towards the school for having “failed” in protecting the boy. The report described at length the manner in which the victim was bullied and words such as, “torment,” and “violent,” were used to evoke emotional responses such as fear and outrage.
Similar to the above newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald online also had a sensational headline which read, “High-school bullying drove teen to suicide,” (Howden, 2010).The online article used an online video which was linked to Channel Ten News, which included photos of the victim and the school, and an interview with a psychologist, thus the emotive nature of those images were also used to illustrate the story. The tone and content of this article was also negative and targeted towards the school for not fulfilling their duty, thus there was bias through the use of names and titles (Fields 2006).
It reported in detail the verbal abuse the victim had to endure and words such as “bashed,” “faggot,” “humiliate” and “failed,” were used as well to evoke emotional response from the reader.
In contrast, The ABC online headline read, “NSW education department to review bullying policy.” The word choice and tone of the article was neutral. The report did not blame the school for having failed, in fact it included comments that were made by the NSW Minister for Education mentioning that the school teachers as being “dedicated” and “devastated” by this tragedy. Therefore, there was no bias through the use of names and titles. Words such as “tragedy” and “not about apportioning blame” further made the reader form a considered and rational response as opposed to one of an emotive nature (Fields, 2006).
... synthesized much earlier research and concluded that the average school is biased against girls in a number of ways. The study ... end, high hopes for Title IX ending gender bias mounted. However, many schools simply did not take this law seriously. In ... federal law made sex discriminations in schools illegal. Under Title IX, sex bias was outlawed in school athletics, career counseling, medical services, ...
There was no bias by photos since no image was used to illustrate the story.
The main similarities between these three articles was that they all mentioned policies, programs or strategies which were being put in place and on some occasions made suggestions and recommendations on how to deal with bullying in school. They also included tags at the bottom of the article which were related to other stories on bullying.
After examining other articles and editorials by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph, one can detect similar press ‘agenda’, word choice and tone, bias by photos and captions, bias through selection and omission, bias by headline, bias through the use of names and titles and bias through statistics (Roberts, 2010; McDougall, 2009; Collerton, 2010; Fields, 2006; Bonnor, 2009).
The differences and similarities between the different media outlets could be attributed to various reasons. For instance the The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is a government-funded organization with no financial ties to the private sector. It holds a similar position to the one enjoyed by the BBC in the United Kingdom and remains committed to providing unbiased media to all Australians and according to the ABC’s charter it is obligated to provide balance and diversity of opinion. (Craig, 2004; ABC, 2010).
Therefore, with such social issues like bullying in school, a range of various viewpoints are included in their presentation.For instance, in their news report, the ABC’s investigative reports regularly includes interviews with politicians, the government and/or the police. Furthermore, the ABC is not affected by audience fragmentation. They measure audience by using a system called reach, different to the commercial rating system and the majority of their audience are older viewers. Therefore, their use of headlines, choice of words and tone is not dramatic but instead one that evokes considered and rational response to the issue (Stewart & Kowaltzke, 1997).
... online, as well as being physical bullying or emotional bullying. 2) Mode of School Bullying • Physical bullying is bullying that takes the form of physical ... name calling, and teasing. 3) Medium of School Bullying • Face-to-face bullying is bullying in which students confront each other in person ... very real considerations, it is important to make the issue less of a hidden shame and more of an open ...
On the other hand, The Sydney Morning Herald which is owned by Fairfax Ltd and its shareholders, and The Daily Telegraph which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, seem to have a similar agenda setting in regards to the issue of bullying (Cunningham & Turner, 2006).
The reason for the similarity in reporting (this particular social issue) could be that when it comes to newspaper readership, The Daily Telegraph which is considered as a tabloid newspaper is pitted against it’s broadsheet competitor, The Sydney Morning Herald (Craig, 2004).
Their use of sensationalized headlines could be attributed to the fact that newspaper headlines play a crucial role in getting the reader’s attention. Very often readers ‘scan’ newspapers instead of reading the whole story, there-fore, sensationalizing often grabs the readers attention. Furthermore, it could be suggested that the media‘s quest to acquire the largest possible audience has led to these newspapers using similar content and reporting style.
Another reason for their similarity could be attributed to the fact that both of the privately owned media are reliant on advertisements. Unlike the ABC, they are governed by economic and not philanthropic forces. Therefore, one could suggest that they employ sensationalized headlines and emotive choice of words and tone to get the attention of their readers which in turn brings in more revenue from the advertisers.
The role of media in influencing public opinion about a significant social issue has been has been the subject of research and debate (Fields, 2006).
While reviewing the newspaper articles sampled for this essay, there is evidence that press coverage tends to sensationalize reports through exaggeration and sometimes even by using misleading headlines. However, according to Fields (2006), how this practice captures the reader’s attention or to what extent it influences public opinion is questionable and difficult to know. A point worth making is that persistent media reports about bullying does seem to influence decision making and policy development. Due to media pressure, governments in Australia have been prompted to further examine anti-bullying programs and education departments have had to review their bullying policy. For example, the case of Alex Wildman has sparked debate between parents, teachers, social psychologists, legislators and the press. This has further prompted the government to make amendments to the Sexual Discrimination Act, which presently only protects students over the age of 16. New sexual harassment laws are likely to be put in place in the future due to such cases like Alex Wildman, since the victim was only 14 years old (Barnett, 2010; Riches, 2010).
... the relationship between the mass media and the popular culture has always been a controversial issue in social sciences. The ... s Cave: Desire, Power, and the Specular Functions of the Media. New Jersey: Ablex Publishing, 1991. Pringree, Suzanne Dr., ... Hawkins, Robert Dr. Media and Society Seminar Transcript. National Graduate Diploma Scheme of the Australian Film and Television school, 1980. Roach, ...
The press also retains greater influence on this issue in the form of ‘opinion journalism.’ The editorials are a growing feature of newspapers and can promote a particular issue by professing to be the collective voice of its readers (Craig, 2004).
For instance, the Sydney Morning Herald Opinion column has journalists and professionals from the community, like school principals and lawyers, speaking on the issue of bullying (Riches, 2010).
By creating a dialogue with the public, the press is able to influence public opinion. As Professor, Bernard Cohen noted, that, “the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (as cited in Fields, 2006, p.3 ).
Furthermore, the shift from paper to electronic delivery of news has made the news industry more accessible to a wider audience. For instance, online interactive multimedia includes images, sounds, and movies, and it also allows the user to actively interact with the news stories, making it more interesting for audience participation (Quintana, n.d.).
According to Krieken et al, (2010) “the media is both participatory and creative in character,” (p.89).
The media actively interacts with the audience and it serves as a tool that can influence public opinion about significant social issues. Newspapers not only supply information but it also serves as a platform where debate about social issues can occur. The press along with its readers, the subject of the news and the newspaper itself are part of a complex communicative process (Craig, 2004).
... doing everything in their power to put a stop to bullying in schools. If a child is bringing that much harm to ... see that there are young people committing suicide over being bullied at school. These children should not see ending their life as ... seems to be taking over our schools these days. Bullying has become a major issue in our schools and should be a problem ...
Therefore, after reviewing the role of media and the issue of bullying in school, there is evidence that the media does have some influence on educational decisions and policy, however to what extent it impacts the public’s perceptions of such an issue is not easy to find.
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