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Mental illness on Trial: a critical comparative analysis of mainstream News media coverage of mental illness, Race, and crime in canada (2008 - 2011)

Abstract : In this paper, we examine the differential strategies employed by Canadian print and broadcast media with respect to reporting of mental illness. Specifically, we analyse media coverage in newspaper articles and television news broadcasts of two separate, violent events that occurred in July 2008, involving racialized persons with lived experience of mental illness. We follow these events over a 3-year period across the national Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news network to examine the role of media in constructing ideas and images about mental health issues and persons with lived experience of mental illness. our work is situated within a growing body of literature on media and mental illness which has, to date, demonstrated both challenges to, and perpetuation of, stigmatization and discrimination against persons with lived experience of mental illness. the role of the media in constructing negative images of mentally ill people and perpetuating stigmatization has been drawn into increasingly sharp focus since the 1950s. avast body of empirical evidence has grown in support of the notion that media coverage of mental illness is most often negative, inaccurate, and stigmatizing towards persons with lived experience of mental illness. Nunnally (1957; 1962) was one of the first researchers to systematically demonstrate the many inaccuracies and negative portrayals of mental illness that exist across various forms of media. to date, a range of media effects and audience reception studies have produced similar findings, lending credence to idea that media sensationalize and stereotype experiences of mental illness (Matas et al, 1986; Day & Page, 1986; Wahl, 1995; Philo et al, 1996; Wilson et al, 1999; rose, 1998; olstead, 2002; nairn & Coverdale, 2005; Corrigan et al, 2005; nairn, Stuart, 2006). in a 2001 review of the literature, Francis et al. concluded that media portrayals are overwhelmingly negative, that media authors consistently link together violence and mental illness, and that media promote negative stereotypes about persons with mental illness. representations of mental illness in mainstream media often link together mental illness with an alleged propensity for violence, criminality, and unpredictability. Blood and Holland (2004: 330) point out that media stories are often organized in ways that "resonate with previous public understandings of the mentally ill as violent, unpredictable and as dangerous others" and note that individual news items are framed around "community fear, danger, and unpredictability." the content and frequency of such representations are of grave concern because they risk misrepresenting the potential for criminal violence among persons with mental illness and, consequently, contribute to the stigmatization and avoidance of persons with lived experience of mental illness (Philo, 1996; rose, 1998; olstead, 2002; Sampietro, 2010). in turn, Cutcliffe and Hannigan (2001) point out that negative attitudes toward mental illness may lead to mental health policies that involve increasingly coercive treatment (in law and health care), and efforts to protect the public rather than invest in community mental health. negative effects of media-fuelled moral panic and discrimination against persons with mental illness also extend to employment, education, housing, and ultimately to people's beliefs in and support for recovery or rehabilitation (link et al 2001). news media, in particular, have consequently been under increasing scrutiny by mental health service users, survivors, and their families and advocates to review their standards of practice and to provide accurate and ethical reporting of mental illness (Patterson 1994; Montgomery 1989; Wahl 1995; Brawley and Martinez-Brawley 2003; Pirkis et al. 2006). nGos, research centers and ad-hoc commissions have sought to provide guidelines and codes of practice, and to create public forums for monitoring media messages. in the Canadian context within which our analyses are situated, the recently formed Mental Health Commission of Canada (2007) launched a nation-wide anti-stigma campaign (the opening Minds initiative) to combat stigma at multiple societal levels. recently, researchers have reported some positive changes in media coverage of mental illness, in part thanks to anti-stigma initiatives (Stuart 2003; Francis et al. 2004; Henson et al. 2010). in this paper, we employ a discourse analytic approach to examine the differential strategies employed by Canadian media authors with respect to reporting of mental illness. our interest in this work emerged from our current participation in an ongoing major research study funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which involves the coding and analysis of Canadian print and broadcast media representations of mental illness from 2005 to 2012. We selected two events for analysis that occurred within close proximity to each other -during the month of July 2011 - and received extensive and recurrent coverage until at least July 2011 (the last month for which we conducted our analyses). Both cases involve immigrant men from east asia who committed aberrant acts for which they were eventually judged not criminally responsible; the first individual, Vincent li, beheaded a stranger on a Greyhound bus, and the second man, narin Sok, killed his wife .the nearly simultaneous occurrence of these events, the similarly abhorrent nature of the acts committed, and their ongoing media coverage facilitated our comparisons of their representational trajectories (changes in the nature of how they are depicted and discussed over time) within Canadian news media. a range of questions guide our analyses of these cases: How did print and broadcast media formats differ in their constructions of these stories? What strategies of communication were most salient in print versus broadcast media coverage of the events? What discursive practices were adopted by journalists to represent the dyad of criminality and mental illness? How was race, as a social construct, employed within media discourses in relation to mental illness and criminality? our discourse analytic approach engages with these questions at multiple levels of media production, interpretation, and reception to investigate: (a) patterns and regularities in textual content; (b) broader themes and discursive practices, and (c) the larger socio-cultural context in which such content is situated and produced (Fairclough, 2001). We draw on lull's (2000) three zones of indeterminacy to suggest that comparisons of the two events across both print and broadcast news media formats provides a broader, polysemic canvas for interpretation and analysis.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 3:54:47 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 3:48:35 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-00840517, version 1



Sarah Berry, Alessandra Miklavcic. Mental illness on Trial: a critical comparative analysis of mainstream News media coverage of mental illness, Race, and crime in canada (2008 - 2011). Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840517⟩



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