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How Do Australian Print Media Representations of Child Abuse and Neglect Inform the Public and System Reform? - Stories Place Undue Emphasis on Social Control Measures and Too Little Emphasis on Social Care Responses

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 38 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2014 Pages: 837-850
Bob Lonne; Kerri Gillespie
Date Published
May 2014
14 pages
This article presents results from a study of all major Australian newspaper stories about child abuse and neglect issues and incidents during an 18-month period (2008-2009).
Of the newspaper stories reviewed (n = 2,710), 51.8 percent (n = 1,384) focused on an issue related to child maltreatment. A difference was noted between tabloid and broadsheet newspaper coverage of child maltreatment issues. Broadsheet newspapers were less likely to describe a specific event of abuse or neglect (37.8 percent compared with 52.7 percent). In focusing on a specific maltreatment event, tabloids emphasized criminal and legal matters and horrific events. Broadsheets often had lengthy feature articles that provided more nuanced, detailed, and policy-related information. Broadsheets were also more likely to include information about broader contributing factors, such as domestic violence, social and cultural factors, and welfare assistance. Broadsheet newspapers highlighted system failures and the ignoring of institutional abuse within faith-based organizations. Although both tabloids and broadsheets have drawn the public's attention to child maltreatment, certain types of coverage have had negative effects. The portrayal of the child maltreatment committed by particular individuals obscures that fact that societal and structural factors cause child abuse. These broader factors include poverty, social injustice, inequity, and systemic discrimination. There is also little media interest in policies that affect families and their ability to provide for the emotional, material, and educational needs of their children. The media focus on the criminal aspects of child maltreatment encourages the public to support punishment as the primary response to child maltreatment. This dilutes public support for rehabilitative and preventive interventions that can have a broader and more beneficial effect on child maltreatment. The public is generally poorly informed on the roles, programs, services, and strategies of child protection services in working with families where children are at high risk of maltreatment. 10 suggested readings