Similarities between the representation of “aggressive dogs” and “sex offenders” in the British news media

Orritt, Rachel and Harper, Craig (2015) Similarities between the representation of “aggressive dogs” and “sex offenders” in the British news media. In: Who's talking now? Multispecies relations from human and animals' points of view. Inter-Disciplinary Press, pp. 245-258. ISBN 9781848883765

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Incidents of sexual crime and dog bite fatalities both score highly over the range of news values (including negativity, recency and unexpectedness; Ghavamnia and Dastjerdi, 2013). The two issues share some characteristics in how
they are represented in the news media, with common themes of ‘angelic victim’ vs. ‘demonic dog/offender’. Media reporting often adversely influences political decision making. An example of this is the construction and development of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 following widespread coverage of extreme cases of dog aggression. This law was not informed by scientific inquiry and has been shown to be ineffective at reducing dog bite prevalence (Klaassen et al., 1996). Similarly, the media construction of the ‘predatory sex offender’ following high profile press-led campaigns forced the British government to pass community notification legislation, granting residents privileged access to information about the offending histories of convicted sex offenders in their area. To now, very little empirical
evidence has been produced showing notification procedures to be an effective option for reducing sexual offenses (McCartan, 2014), with several US-based studies providing evidence of possible iatrogenic effects of community notification (e.g. Levenson and Cotter, 2005). To our knowledge, there have been no published studies investigating the
media representation of dog bite incidents in the UK. However, anecdotal observation of recent press coverage indicates similarities between the representations of dog aggression and sexual crimes. News coverage of both
topics are typified by negativity and unrepresentative prototypes, with audiences inferring these extreme cases as grounds for punitive legislation. The populist and reactionary nature of modern politics contributes to a self-perpetuating cycle of inadequate legislation, increased public concern, and emotional news coverage. In this talk, we formulate these ideas into a model for thinking about the prototypical nature of much news reporting on these two contentious issues.

Keywords:dog aggression, sexual offenders, dog bites, aggressive behavior, aggression, media representation, risk perception
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D330 Veterinary Public Health
C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C810 Applied Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C880 Social Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
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ID Code:19582
Deposited On:14 Nov 2015 18:25

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