Audience understandings of media messages about child sexual abuse: An exploration of audience reception and media influence

Kitzinger, Jenny (1999) Audience understandings of media messages about child sexual abuse: An exploration of audience reception and media influence. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Audience Understandings of Media Messages about Child Sexual Abuse: an exploration of audience reception and media influence. This thesis examines media power and audience reception processes through a detailed study of media reporting and public understandings of child sexual abuse. It is based on 79 focus group discussions in which people were invited to write their own scripts (using pictures taken from the TV coverage) or comment on some anti-abuse advertisements (taken from the Zero Tolerance campaign). Public understandings are systematically compared to the content of media reporting and campaign materials. In particular 1 explore people's memories of two cases, 'Cleveland' and 'Orkney', and their views around specific themes (images of abusers, notions about stranger-danger, and ideas around sites of safety and danger). The thesis explores the diversity of audience reactions and the different ways in which people may identify with the characters represented in the media or in advertisements. However, I also draw attention to the themes which recurred across all the focus groups and argue that there is strong evidence of media effects. The thesis highlights factors in media coverage which are particularly influential. It demonstrates how 'story branding' and the social and geographical placing of an event may influence audience responses and examines how media representations may 'organise the imagination' through structuring patterns of empathy. I also highlight the impact of 'media templates'; the powerful and routine association of one case with another whereby condensed versions of the past are used to interpret and frame the present. In addition to looking at the media, attention is drawn to readers' and viewers' everyday interactions and experiences. I demonstrate how audience responses are influenced by embedded knowledge, structural factors and the social currency of different types of information. The final part of the thesis discusses the way in which the experience of abuse is itself mediated by the media environment, and draws on interviews conducted from the early 1980s to examine how the 'cultural vacuum' for abuse survivors has been transformed. The thesis concludes by challenging some taken-for-granted media studies terminology and points to the practical, theoretical and methodological implications of my work. I argue for a media studies agenda which reconnects questions about audience reception with questions about media production and content as well as the structuring of wider relations within society. It is through re-establishing such connections that media studies researchers can contribute to contemporary debates about power, control and social change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: John Eldridge
Keywords: Communication
Date of Award: 1999
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1999-71607
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 14:07
Last Modified: 10 May 2019 14:07
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71607

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