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The News Media Role in the Culture of Fear Essay

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Updated: Jun 26th, 2020


The contemporary era is characterized by new developments that keep on changing with time. The need to be updated has been satisfied by the vast news agencies available today. The broadcast of news is conveyed via channels such as the television, radio, and the social media among others. The messages delivered to the public come as news intended to inform recipients of new developments pertaining to an issue that has an impact on society. The news could be reports of a new disease outbreak, a disaster, war, or even impending natural calamities. The reception of such news has the potential of eliciting fear among the public depending on one’s understanding or relation to the news spread by the media houses. However, there could be some underlying issues that may facilitate the news media to portray the story in a fearful manner. This paper will examine how the media generates unnecessary fear to cover up other contemporary issues.


Glassner brands news magazines, politicians, television, and advocacy groups as “peddlers of fear” (72). He further suggests that the agents of news broadcasting go ahead and influence the masses towards spending millions of dollars in a bid to cater for the fear and worries evoked by the news. In this regard, more Americans today live in fear than they did in the past. The perceptions of danger in the contemporary world have surpassed the actual level of risk and danger involved or imagined.

The implication of this aspect is that people live in a world where they expect the “Breaking News” pop-up on the screens of their television sets to appear at any given time. Therefore, people tend to be alert and considerate of any information communicated from the various news casting agencies. The public invests money, time, and energy as people strategize on how to deal with such fears propagated by the news media.

The media shares sensational stories that grasp the attention of the viewers, readers, and listeners, thus evoking fear to some degree. The sensational stories come with captivating headings that persuade the audience to seek more information on the topic under discussion (Graber 180).

When the public is bombarded with the sensational stories, ratings are expected to raise popularization of a particular story amongst the public, hence consequently generating more revenue for the agencies. The sensational stories then start trending, thus resulting in increased reads, views, and comments on various platforms administered by the news media. The underlying issue could be to rake in profits out of blog visits, sales increase for a particular product or service, and increased circulation of a particular news magazine. Consequently, the masses become fearful at the expense of the news spread by the media houses that may have some underlying agendas they intend to accomplish. According to Glassner, this aspect gave rise to the concept of the media effects theory (28).

News of drugs, disaster, and crime tend to elicit fear when broadcasted by the various media channels of the contemporary society. According to Graber, such newscasts lead to more people turning to the news in a bid to learn about new developments (189).

Since such stories are usually considered as sensitive, the public is more likely to be overwhelmed by the feeling of fear because the areas highlighted affect its social and economic aspects. For instance, news about increased number of youths indulging in drug abuse in a particular area may inflict fear among parents who would be worried about their children’s well-being. By highlighting areas that affect the masses directly, the media remains relevant since more people are attentive to the shared information.

Newscasts pertaining disease outbreaks are frequently received with fear due to the sensitive nature of health issues. The public becomes alert and vigilant on matters concerning their health implying that such news affects their well-being in a great way. For instance, on July 28, 2014, The NY Daily News published an article about the outbreak of Ebola, thus leading to fear and the implementation of restrictive measures across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The news was received with great fear after the deadly pandemic ravaged the people of West Africa. Movement restrictions further show that the situation is disastrous, hence evoking more fear. The question arises when people try to enquire on the events that occurred before the outbreak. The media should have instead raised the underlying factors that may have led to a potential outbreak of Ebola.

However, the media takes the frontline in sharing the news instead of highlighting precautionary and preventive measures before the outbreak. Therefore, the media becomes responsible for the fears inflicted to the masses, since it does not facilitate early warning systems and response to the public (Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz 355). This aspect is evident in the article where the writers describe Ebola as an infection that has no cure, causes sore throats, and vomiting, coupled with how quickly it spreads.

Politicians have a great influence on what appears on the news in the contemporary world. Since politics is a fundamental institution of the society, any news that may portray political instability induces fear to the public. A politician may also use the news media to drive his/her agenda at the expense of the public. Political influence could be in the form of a proposal of controversial policies that have a huge bearing on the lives of the subjects. In essence, the politicians may use the media houses just to safeguard their interests such as wooing voters. Consequently, both the politicians and the news media become “peddlers of fear”.

How crime and violence generate unnecessary fears

Crime is usually overrepresented in the newscasts as compared to the actual crime rates on the ground. Glassner states that the number of homicide crimes, which accounts for 0.1 % of all arrests in the US, dropped by 27% between 2001 and 2008 (70). However, crimes committed by white-collar criminals rarely get to the news; instead, violent crimes are common at any one given time. In this case, the news media cultivate fear among the public by publishing reports involving gruesome crimes, but leaving white-collar crimes such as fraud and misappropriation of public funds that may be of great magnitude.

The stereotypical patterns of crimes such as rape, homicide, and other bizarre immoralities are usually shared, thus leaving the crimes known by many especially in the homestead setting. Instances of rape in marriage, battering, and child abuse rarely find their way to the news media despite the identities of suspects and victims being known. The media houses tend to focus on the crimes committed by a certain clique of individuals, leaving the story about known suspects to go unnoticed just because they do not have the potential of inflicting fear on the public. Due to the frequent news about violence and crime, the public becomes less concerned with other forms of crime committed. For instance, fraud and cyber crimes involving enormous sums of money go unreported, thus rendering them less threatening since the media does not focus on such cases regularly.

Terror attacks are usually disastrous and feared by many. The sensitivity of acts of terrorism cannot go unreported by the news media. For instance, on September 11, 2001, the Al-Qaeda, which is a terrorist group, attacked the US by conducting suicide missions using passenger jets on major buildings. News agencies were on the frontline in reporting the acts of terrorism, thus leaving the world sorrowful and fearful after the death of almost 3000 individuals.

Although the media aired live pictures that created fear amongst the Americans, the agenda behind the attacks need to have been communicated (Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz 350). The news agencies need to have informed the masses of an impending terrorist attack by the Al-Qaeda considering that there were conflicts between the US government and the terrorist group. The fear emanating from the terror attack news could be minimized if there were early warning systems facilitated by the media.

News involving crime provides excellent visuals and content for television and print coverage. In most cases, the victims of criminal activities are the elderly, children, and women. These individuals are considered as vulnerable to crime and violence; hence, when they become victimized, the public’s eyebrows tend to be raised. Such victims tend to cause sympathetic sensations to the viewers, listeners, or readers, hence, gaining more attention. For instance, news about sexual molestation and murder of children by their caregivers would potentially be the headliners gaining more airtime among various news organizations.

Crime involving celebrities quickly finds a way to the media houses ready for broadcasting seconds after its occurrence. Showbiz programs have flooded television channels with the intent of letting people know what celebrities are up to (Graber 204). Since stars are considered as public figures, the newscasters prefer airing news involving celebrity crimes or violence in a bid to create the “fear story” (Furedi 111).

The technique of coupling stories with issues like urban living has unmasked the ideas behind the perception of an effective environment. The media, in this case, tries to drive home the point that social economic and political moralities need to be dealt with since they hold fearful outcomes. According to Altheide, the media is a source of socialization that is very effective due to its ability to reach the masses within a very short time (649). By the infliction of fear, immoralities are pointed out; hence, people are expected not to engage in violent or criminal activities. Producing fear as a reaction is a tool used by the media to socialize and raise awareness about a situation that has a potential danger whether real or imagined.


The contemporary world perceives fear as a pervasive word adding meaning to everyday life, as more people are alert courtesy of the mass media. The public nowadays sees life as being fearful due to the increased number of newscasts that are headlined by criminal and violent stories. The news media has thus been in a position to capitalize on the weaknesses that the public has when topics that have elicited fear are broadcasted. Specifically, news regarding crime and violence has been overemphasized, thus creating more fear among the populous. Less prevalent societal problems receive more airtime as compared to the real issues affecting the society. The news media thus fosters fear of some social problems to the extent where other societal issues of importance fail to be addressed.

Works Cited

Altheide, David. “The news media, the problem frame, and the production of fear.” The sociological quarterly 38.4 (1997): 647-668. Print.

Chiricos, Ted, Sarah Eschholz, and Marc Gertz. “Crime, news and fear of crime: Toward an identification of audience effects.” Social problems 44.3 (1997): 342-357. Print.

Furedi, Frank. Culture of fear revisited, London: A&C Black, 2006. Print.

Glassner, Barry. The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More, New York: Basic Books, 2010.Print.

Graber, Doris. Crime news and the public, New York: Praeger, 1980. Print.

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