Jacques Laplante and Pierre Landreville
The recent enactment of the Young Offenders Act has ended a long period of the rule of the “parens patriae”, philosophy whereby the juvenile court's task was not to administer just punishment for the offence but to diagnose and treat the underlying problems. The new legislation, which follows the “justice model”, attempts to broaden legal rights of accused juveniles while simultaneously making juvenile law more punitive and more focused on specific criminal offences.
The present article looks at the way the Canadian mass media reported on this major historical shift in the juvenile justice philosophy. The overt and hidden messages are analysed and the sources of the prevailing definitions explored. It has been found that the majority of informants represented powerful interest groups and organizations. Moreover, the investigated press reports created an image of fundamental consensus, and the new legislation was presented as being beneficial to the society as a whole. The inherent contradictions in the philosophy underlying the new Act were overlooked in favour of an image of a perfect balance whereby ambivalences of the new approach became transformed into virtues.
The article tests a number of hypotheses and offers theoretical interpretations of the findings. The applicability of the consensual functionalist, critical functionalist and Marxist orientations is assessed.
Ronald D. Crelinsten
This paper examines the legitimating function of press coverage by means of a specific case study of political violence. Dissident actors who resort to violence to achieve their political goals are generally treated by the authorities as common criminals. This criminal justice model is reproduced and reinforced in the press by selective focus on specific, narrow topics at the expense of political analysis. These topics include the victims, the threat of future attacks, police activity, and the declarations of those in authority. In the October Crisis of 1970, this process was temporarily disrupted and a transient symmetry was achieved whereby the point of view of the dissident actors and their supporters received as much attention as the official perspective of the authorities. With the invocation of the War Measures Act, this symmetry was destroyed and press coverage once again returned to an almost exclusive focus on official definitions of the situation. The author suggests that this pattern of press coverage reflects a transient disruption in the legitimating function of the media whereby, in normal times, the reporting of “news” can reproduce and reinforce official views of dissident actors who use violence for political ends.
Based on two newspapers published in different socio-political contexts, one in Nice, France, the other in Geneva, Switzerland, we would like to compare the way these two dailies view crimes against property. Does the journalist report theft, breach of trust or break and enter in the same way? Are the same variables used in the articles or are important changes made from one article to the other? If such is the case, who orders the changes in the structure of the articles?
The work, which comprises a systematic list of six months daily articles, covers all typical situations published in the two newspapers. It seems, then, that the persons mentioned in the papers who belong to minority, as opposed to the majority groups, are generally presented as responsible for crime. It seems, too, that individuality disappears in the reconstruction of the reality by the media. All in all, the analysis shows that the press exercises only a relative influence on its readers.
Thomas Gabor and Gabriel Weimann
The authors examined, through content analysis, some criticisms that have been levelled at the press in its coverage of crime. The propositions examined included the accusations that newspapers are preoccupied with violence and “street” crime, that they focus on the bizarre, are superficial in their reporting of crime, misinform the public about the characteristics of offenders and victims, and exhibit a conservative bias in their analysis.
This study of a major Canadian daily newspaper revealed substantiation for some of these claims but failed to support others. Violent and street crimes received disproportionate coverage and very few articles contained an in-depth analysis of the roots of crime or the workings of the criminal justice system. The evidence was less clear or non-existent in relation to the claims that the press focus on nonroutine events, that they provide distorted images of offenders and victims and that they have a conservative bent.
Commentant l'impact des masse-médias, Marshall McLuhan (1978) soulignait:
To invade the private person, or to invade a group with teaching, with doctrines, with entertainment, all these are alike forms of violence. To assume the right to program the sensibilities or thoughts and fantasies of individuals or groups, has long been taken for granted as a viable form of personal or social action...
Today, however, there is a new dimension in all of these activities. Electric media move information and people at the speed of light. It is this instant and total quality that constitutes the condition of mass man and the mass society (p. 212).
The literature abounds with studies showing the cultural gap and the hostility that exists between journalists and the police. During the 19th century in the United States, however, a complicity eminently profitable for both was rapidly established between constables and reporters for the first penny newspapers.
The confrontations and mass rallies of the 60' s saw the role of journalists change to become no longer the servile and docile distributors of a particular image of crime, the criminal and police work. Journalists suddenly found themselves on the side of the “criminals”, facing the truncheons of militant police.
In Montreal, a public relations service was subsequently created to restore the positive image of the police and try to reestablish the control of information. Since the newspapers were more commercial than intellectual enterprises, complicity, both official and unofficial, was quickly reestablished, giving rise to a rather doubtful relationship between journalists and the police.
It was about ten years after the October crisis, when the majority of journalists identified more with the protesters than with the repressive forces, that the Quebec Police decided to restore media/police relationships to their former state. A communications service was created, which, in little more than ten years, enabled the police authorities to exercise an almost total control over information; only what served the strategy of the police was to be published.
For the R.C.M.P., the honeymoon came to an end with the creation of the Keable and McDonald Commissions. In 1977, there were five policemen attached to the public relations service of the R.C.M.P. in Montreal. In 1986, a single officer remains and no longer even bears the title of official communications or public relations officer.
Everywhere in Quebec, journalists seem to have traded their ability to inform for their daily ration of diverse facts, and it is still the disturbing image of crime and criminals that they blithely publish, making the media true instruments of social control.