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Social conservatism vs social justice: the portrayal of child abuse in the press in Victoria, Australia

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This paper explores the role of the media in influencing child protection policies in the Australian state of Victoria. Media coverage of child abuse is seen to have had both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, media campaigns have almost certainly helped to produce more equitable and effective child protection policies and practices. On the other hand, much media coverage (particularly in the tabloid media) has been sensationalist and simplistic. Such coverage arguably has a broader social conservative political agenda, which is to defend traditional institutions and values such as the family, rather than being primarily concerned with identifying necessary reforms to child protection policies and legislation. Attention is drawn here to the local coverage of recent high-profile child abuse cases and debates within the two daily Melbourne newspapers, The Age and the Herald Sun. Evidence is presented to demonstrate that the tabloid Herald Sun has consistently pursued a broader social conservative agenda based on defending traditional nuclear families from allegedly subversive or deviant groups such as incompetent and/or authoritarian state social workers or, alternatively, individually abusive parents. In contrast, the quality daily The Age has generally eschewed simplistic coverage of individual cases in favour of broader structural reform agendas. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Keywords: child protection; media; social conservatism; social justice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Social Work, School of Public Policy and Social Work, Monash University, Melbourne

Publication date: 2000-01-01

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