Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 1 No. 2, December 1983

Drugs as news: defining the social

Philip Bell

Since the early 1970s sociologists of the media have emphasized the ways by which news values and professional mediations constitute 'interpretive frameworks' of a highly consensual, conservative kind. Although most recent analysis has focussed on the semiotics of media discourses, the 'consensual paradigm' persists.

In 1974 Young argued that mass media share with other organs of popular social knowledge a set of assumptions about normality which is 'functional for the maintenance of diligent, consistent work and the realization of long-term productive goals.' The consensus image of society rests on (at least) three premises:

(1) People are seen to share common definitions of reality—agree as to what is normal and deviant behaviour; what activities are praiseworthy and what condemnable.

(2) This consensus is seen to be functional to an organic system which they see as society. Behaviour violating the consensus is dysfunctional.

(3) The major content of this model is geared to a neo-Keynesian image of the economy, a nuclear family image of sexuality, and a mundane concept of religious experience (p.233).

Thus the mythical hedonistic spontaneity of drug use is emphasized in media images of non-productive self-indulgence while the ingestion of alcohol and tobacco, being widely accepted as consistent with formal work values, must be understood, however contradictorily, as not dysfunctional or, alternatively, as constituting a problem within the consensus, not an attack on its central values.

The central tenet of the 'Consensual Paradigm', as Young later characterized it, is that

media operatives use a particular paradigm of reality in order to understand events in the real world. This paradigm, or 'inferential structure', is consensual in its basis. That is, it bifurcates the world into a majority of normal people who are possessed of free will, and a deviant minority ... acting outside rationality (1981: 393).

The persistence of the paradigm can be seen in texts such as Hartley's Understanding News. He states that '... the notion of "the consensus" is a basic organizing principle in news production' (1982: 82), and argues that the media continually explain away political dissent as anti-social deviance. He cites Hall et al's 'concentric circles' model of the paradigm, and emphasizes the functional consequences of news ideology for the maintenance of what the media define as 'civilized society' (1982: 85).

In this paper I wish to argue that this paradigm is simplistic, even in the case of reports of drug-related issues in the press and on TV,

102

the very area where it might be expected to apply. I will first discuss the general findings of a content analysis of one year's press report on drug-related issues, briefly describe a semantic analysis of news headlines, and then reconsider the Consensual Paradigm in the light of a Foucault-inspired analysis of drug news discourses. First, the content analysis (see Bell, 1982: 19-97):

All items which concerned drug-related matters that appeared in the New South Wales press between October 1, 1980 and September 30, 1981 were collected for analysis. A drug-related item was one which used the word 'drug(s)', 'addict(s)' or the name of a drug or drug class in its headline(s) or in its first sentence of text. All the major daily and Sunday papers published in New South Wales in the period were included in the study.

Additionally, samples of three other types of newspaper were included for comparison: seventeen Sydney suburban newspapers seventeen from the North Coast (Health) region of New South Wales and the same number from the rest of the country area of the State.

Each item was classified in terms of the type of drug(s) on which it was principally focussed (Drug-Type) and according to the 'type of story' or its principal thematic concern. (Clearly this requires a judgement by the coder concerning the main focus of the item relative to many subsidiary or secondary themes.)

During the twelve month period under review, 1274 news items concerned drugs or drug-related issues. Forty percent of these included the word 'drug' or the name of a drug or drug class, at least once in their headlines (including sub-heads).

Table 1 indicates the percentage of drug-related items which were principally concerned with particular drugs or drug-classes.

Themes and problems: relative emphases

Table 2 shows the major thematic emphases of items (ignoring drug-type) for all newspapers combined. The wide range of content classifications which were heavily represented in news items suggests that newspapers did not exclusively concentrate on discrete incidents

103

and events (such as crimes) but that they reported very heavily both policy and research aspects of drug-related issues.

I will not consider the detailed findings of this analysis, but wish to concentrate on their general implications for the model of media and society outlined in my introduction. But two additional findings should be noted: (1) The groups most frequently nominated in relation to 'drugs' are children (including 'youth'), women, and the elderly. (2) There are many references to 'foreign' racketeers and to foreign countries, which connote threat and/or sinister conspiracy to corrupt 'Australia', Australians and other nominated potential victims.

Drug syndicates, drug seizures and individual drug offences (including driving) accounted for exactly 33.3% of all items. Thus a general dichotomy might be asserted between reports on deviant/illegal behaviours on one hand and on social-administrative functions on the other, the latter being about twice as common as the former.

The results suggest that news reports confirm the view that drug consumption is the principal social issue. This might serve much the same ideological ends as explicitly blaming the victim, for it displaces complex social problems on to the consumers of drugs who are then seen as being in need of legally-sanctioned 'correction', or of medical or psychological help. This assumes the appropriateness of massive social welfare intervention at the level of those (villains) who facilitate or cause drug consumption. Hence the symptoms of a drug-using Society are ritualistically portrayed as the disease itself, and the social welfare and legal apparatuses are visible as the mechanisms for controlling or alleviating these symptoms. Just as individual criminal behaviour is reported without any social or historical context, so too with drug-related behaviour. Any possible relation to complex social conditions or processes (such as poverty, or unemployment, for

104

instance) is largely avoided. 'Drugs' and related issues, although constantly the focus of professional and administrative attention, seem strangely divorced from real political-economic determinations.

I also conducted a semantic analysis of newspaper headlines, based rather loosely on the work of Kevelson (1977) and Kress and Hodge (1979). This confirmed and extended the conclusions drawn from the more conventional content analysis. I focussed on the specifications of agents and processes in active- and passive-voice headlines (and text). Briefly, four classes of 'actant' were distinguished, interacting in a set of structured mini-narratives. The four were Heroes, Helpers, Villains and Victims.

Heroes either win battles, save victims or fight on another's behalf. They are reported as achieving these goals in the active voice. The prevalent headline metaphor of war-like conflict is given its natural personification in the wide range of heroic actors that 'fight', 'save', 'win', and 'raid' on society's behalf:

POLICE PHONE-TAP BLITZ ON DRUG RING (Sun, 19.1.81).
MP CALLS FOR WAR ON NARCOTICS TRAFFICKERS (Australian, 23.12.80).
DRUG FIGHT LEADER TO ADDRESS MEETING (Gunnedah Independent, 20.10.80).
POLICE ACTION SAVES DRUGGED GIRL (Murwillumbah Daily News, 7.10.80).
SUPER-FORCE SET TO CRUSH DRUG CHIEFS (Daily Telegraph, 1.7.81).
POLICE HIT TWEED DOPE PLANTATIONS (Murwillumbah Daily News, 6.3.81).

In the above content analysis many of the items under these rhetorical headline condensations would have been classified in terms of thematic emphasis or problem definitions which give little indication of their semantics. For example, the item 'War on drugs may feel cuts' (Daily Mirror, 24.8.81) is an 'Education-Prevention' item, a classification which ignores (as content analysis inevitably must), the fact that the headline relies on highly predictable metaphors.

Hence, it is possible that, semantically, many items of an apparently neutral or descriptive-informational kind may incorporate stereotypic 'frameworks of interpretation'. It remains a moot point, then, whether the overt 'content' of an item or the semantic grammatical structures which link it to other interpretive frameworks are the more salient. Either way, one class of 'heroes' which is represented in items of various thematic emphases consists of experts—spokespersons for governmental agencies, scientific-medical experts and representatives of 'knowledge and surveillance' aspects of drugs as an assumed social problem. These spokespersons and experts are grammatically active and are incorporated into similar (although less metaphorically potent) frameworks of interpretation to other heroes involved in the 'fight against drugs'. But even representatives of bureaucracy may be represented as knights in shining 105

armour who fight by means of knowledge and words: DRUG FIGHT LEADER TO ADDRESS MEETING (Gunnedah Independent, 28.10.81). Similarly, governments themselves can be construed as antagonists in the battle, with their spokesperson seen as the embodiment of a will to win the battle with 'drug chiefs':

The Federal Government is to join forces with NSW Victoria and Queensland to topple the overlords of crime and drug trafficking (Daily Telegraph, 1.7.81).

Medical, paramedical, academic and other experts constitute an arm of this fight in that they provide intelligence, suggest strategy, and make public the battle plans by which the administration of society seeks to control drugs as a social, legal or medical problem.

So the category 'heroes' includes both 'helpers' ('police, doctors and social workers', above) in their capacity of concerned caring professionals, as well as those who monitor, research, and/or inform the public about 'drugs' (more precisely, the dangers thereof). Notice that items which feature helpers do not usually nominate precise villains (nor, indeed, acts of villainy) but speak instead of vague nominalizations such as 'glue-sniffing among (not by) children.' Thus agents of social control are of two kinds—those who fight villains and villainy (heroes) and whose who help victims (and alleviate suffering). Schematically, therefore, the relationships between the principal classes of actors are:

In drug items a structured set of interacting agents can be identified which play out a limited set of stories, repetitively making sense of drugs in terms of how the professional agents of social knowledge and control (helpers and heroes) fight for, help, and save, a society which is itself represented by analogy with the passive and ignorant (potential) victims of the intrinsic power of drugs or of the villainy Of powerful exploiters. 106

The Consensual Paradigm reconsidered

I began by outlining the 'interpretive frameworks' by which news is conceptualized in the deviance-consensus model. I have suggested that the representation of drug-related issues is more complex than that model would predict. This is because 'drugs' assume newsworthiness in a heterogeneous range of story genres: scientific, medical criminal or human interest, for example. On either a narrowly empirical analysis or in terms of a more conceptually complex semantic analysis, the interpretive frameworks into which drug issues are integrated frequently concern the administering, social-welfare, interventionist arm of the State. They are not restricted to individual deviance in isolation. This is not really surprising, for as Gandy argues, health (and much social-welfare) news is highly 'subsidised': it is usually a result of the cheap sources of routine information channelled from the bureaucracy, academic researchers or drug companies which are 'rewarded' by public relations exposure when a source is taken up:

The government, both elected officials and career bureaucrats are the principal sources of information in the(se) routine channels (1980: 104).

Of course, the police and courts also furnish much of the information on which drug stories are routinely built and dependence on all such sources is magnified by the inability of reporters to evaluate critically the literature received.

It is, therefore, important to note that the most commonly reported classes of items are those most directly dependent on routine (even self-serving) sources of information. 'Drug stories' are one shop window for the display of the bureaucracy's and research institutions' own activities. The 'heroes' and 'helpers' in drug-related items are not merely individual actors in a morality play which is functional to the conservative ideological requirements of Capitalist society: or, at least, not in the way that the 'Consensual Paradigm' underlying much 1970's media research might suggest. Young (1981) who has recently criticized this paradigm, argues that the deviance consensus model identified in various media contexts—for example, social welfare (Golding and Middleton, 1982)—need not imply a monolithic 'left-functionalist' theory of the relation between media and society. The Consensual Paradigm has simply become, Young asserts, a new orthodoxy.

The Marxist version of this paradigm argues that conflict between classes is concealed, for instance, by the assumption that 'we'— ordinary consumers, 'the nation' or 'the economy'—have one consensual interest—classless and natural. The key characteristics of Consensual Paradigm theory are:

a rational, voluntaristic notion of human action, a notion of society being held together by a mystification directly functional to the ruling class, and the coercive nature of reality hidden beneath the surface of consensual appearances (Young, 1981:394).

107

In the case of particular issues, such as drug-use or strikes, the media may use folk-devils to 'present a negative image of ourselves and to lecture the population on the rewards of conformity' (1981:403). Further, strikes and crimes are 'explained' individualistically, not in terms of the structures of capitalist society.

It is possible to interpret the detailed findings of my study as supporting the Consensual Paradigm. Criminal deviance and psychological abnormality loom large in the representation of drugs as social problems while the restriction of interest to issues of individual consumption confirms the displacement of structural problems by individual deviance. However, the complementary representations of scientific-welfare and bureaucratic agencies and pronouncements must also be explained. Drug news is not merely 'bad news', supportive of an illusory consensus. It does not simply construct an imaginary social unity, quivering yet reassured in the face of deviance and potential social disorder.

Young rejects the view that the apparent consensus assumed by the media is monolithic and conservative. He characterises the Consensual Paradigm interpretation of news as follows:

The media select anomalies of social actors and justice and render them into news stories, which in their denouement, plump for a suitable aetiology (which does not threaten social order) and appropriate nemesis (which balances social accounts). Moreover, the specific deviant groups selected are in fact either innocuous or else comparatively low in any rational list of anti-social activities (1981: 400).

Young sees this model as simplistic for two reasons. First, media institutions are relatively autonomous of the State, and second, particular media must accommodate to the real, if contradictory, locations of working class audiences and readers. Thus he argues for a potential dysfunctionality at the heart of capitalism which the mythologies of news can never make coherent, being based on the sphere of circulation, the world of appearances.

Even 'good news' such as the bureaucracy disseminates, which might serve an explicitly social control function, may be contradicted by the need for news to accommodate to its potential readers (what Young terms its 'audience function'). Thus

the relative autonomy, stemming from both audience demand and the struggle for a free and principled media leads to media —particularly at specific times and places—which in their focus on anomaly and injustice are far from presenting 'a world at one with itself' (p.416).

Because of the conflict between the press's 'control' and 'audience functions',

justice is not always seen to be done: a sense of anomaly, outrage, and injustices sells news, not the soothing principles suggested in Paradigm Theory... (p.412).

108

Yet Young admits that, despite such bad news (for the State), the continued faith which subjects have in the institutions of the State requires explanation.

So, rather than contradicting the Consensual Paradigm, Young seems merely to qualify it, to make it more subtle by emphasizing that audiences work on, and in part produce, the forms of message they receive. But he avoids asking how the media might help to maintain faith in the agents of the State, preferring to assert that not all audiences merely gobble up the inevitable products of consensual ideology.

Rather than focussing on the individual deviant, analysis might foreground the ways by which the State itself is represented. Like Young, I wish to avoid the negative conceptualization of ideology as 'illusion', 'mystification' or merely as a form of 'imaginary coherence'. I want to look not at what drug stories conceal, distort or mystify, but at what they reveal, assume, and generally display.

My argument centres on the ways by which the modern State is represented through the discourses of news. If there is a consensual assumption at the basis of various news genres, it consists in the ways the various agencies and administrative functions of the State are represented in relation to the individual, not merely in the rituals of deviance-defining bad news. It is surprising that few studies of drug-related issues in the media have sought to understand the overwhelming presence of scientific, bureaucratic-administrative, and medical discourses which inform such items. Almost invariably the individual-in-the-news has been the focus of research. Ironically, the researchers seem then to have attributed this same narrow preoccupation to the media themselves. Yet what is clearly on display in press reports of drug-related issues is what Foucault terms 'the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life' (1981: 140), not simply individual violations of assumed consensual norms.

I will detour briefly through Foucault's work on the histories of sexuality and of discipline and punishment during the period characterised by what he sees as the increasing 'governmentalization of the state' (1979:26).

Foucault traces the history of sexuality by means of a 'strategical model, rather than a model based on law' (1981:102). That is, he argues that social power is not maintained simply by virtue of formal legal codifications administered 'from above', but through the 'multiple and mobile field of force relations wherein far-reaching but never completely stable effects of domination are produced' (1981: 102):

In concrete terms, starting in the seventeenth century, [ ] power over life evolved in two basic forms; these forms were not antithetical, however; they constituted rather two poles of development linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations. One of these poles—the first to be formed, it seems—centred on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of

109

its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body. The second, somewhat later, focussed on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, birth and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a bio-politics of the population. The disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed. The setting up, in the course of the classical age, of this great bipolar technology—anatomic and biological, individualizing and specifying, directed toward the performances of the body, with attention to the processes of life—characterized a power whose highest function was perhaps no longer to kill, but to invest life through and through' (1981:139).

The consumption of behaviour- and mood-altering substances clearly activates similar disciplines and regulatory controls in so far as they are represented in the contemporary media: bodies and pleasure are medically and normatively described; children and women are at issue as potential victims because they are the central foci of either protective-pedagogical or pleasure-power relationships. Perverse pleasure is self-indulgence and therefore is exposed to the glare of psychiatric, legal and other normative examination. Foucault, analysing the history of sexuality, points out that the confession replaced the 'judgement of God', and has itself been medicalized and psychologized from the 19th Century. We are enjoined to speak about sex continually- sexuality is dangerous, but central to the meaning of life—both at the species and individual level; it is secretive, unknown but knowable; confession can reveal the truth to the powerful (eg. medical) 'master'; sex is critical in the distinction between normal and pathological. The hedonistic/individualistic focus of media discourses about drug use clearly echoes many of these preoccupations. Drug use is now at the erotic confessional stage as a topic of media concern. The media construct drug use as a medical, scientific, administrative, social, and, therefore, personal problem: the private and the public bodies, their contested boundaries, their normal functioning and their 'ad ministered efficiencies' are at issue:

The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the socialworker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based (quoted in Sheridan, 1980:162).

The popular media circulate and render 'natural' the assumption that 'crime is a departure from the norm, a sickness to be understood 110

if not cured ... [and] ... provide[s] a justification for the examination of the entire population' (Sheridan, 1980: 162):

If the development of the great instruments of the State, as institutions of power, ensured the maintenance of production relations, the rudiments of anatomo- and bio-politics, created in the eighteenth century as techniques of power present at every level of the social body and utilized by very diverse institutions (the family and the army, schools and the police, individual medicine and the administration of collective bodies), operated in the sphere of economic processes, their development, and the forces working to sustain them (Foucault, 1981: 141).

Following Foucault, Kress defines a 'discourse' as a 'mode of talking', which

... in relation to certain areas of social life which are of significance to a social institution ... will produce a set of statements about all area which will define, delimit and circumscribe what it is possible and impossible to say with respect to it and how it is to be talked about (1983: 2).

The discourses which are woven together in various reports on drugs in the press and on television consistently derive from the scientific, bureaucratic and normative institutions. The 'factual', balanced discourse of news itself hierarchically organizes these into complex texts about drugs as a social problem of a particular kind.

In the example below [omitted: Tony Blackie, 'Now "Biggest Health Problem" Drugs Spread in Schools', Sydney Sun-Herald, 5 October 1980] these discourses are patent: the pedagogical, medical, scientific, legal, bureaucratic and behavioural discourses are subsumed under the 'factual revelatory' structure of the text. Following the factual generalization of the first sentence, the text alternates between reports of the testimonies of various social agencies or their spokespersons and factual claims located in the investigative-revelatory mode of the (bylined) journalist-expert.

The caring (maternal?) discourse is then juxtaposed with the descriptions of psychologically deviant behaviour in youth. Thus the item moves through various evidences of the 'social problem' to locate the social in the behavioural. Control of behaviour under the ultimate sanction of death is the point of intersection of the various discourses. The 'ways of talking' about drugs here are transparent and unexceptional—experts, evidence, youth and death are the predictable semantic foci. But this very typical item is but one textual realization of possible ways of speaking the relationship between the State and its subjects, one possible way of constructing a subject of the discursive practices mobilized.

111

[example omitted]

112

This item is typical in terms of the data derived from the content analysis: it is about drugs generally, it reports research statistics, nominates youth as 'victims' and generally focuses on medical-criminal consequences of drug use.

Television genres (such as social-problem documentaries and current affairs reports) realize similar discourse, often extending the analogy between sexual behaviour and drug use by the confessional ('exposure-of-the-intimate') mode of the medium. The following example quotes the final sequence of A.B.C.'s Open File (23/3/1983). Here the discourse of investigative journalism again locates the 'truth' about 'drugs' in the intimate self-confessed psychology of the young.

113

Although heroin is freely accessible, the televisual revelation still has something to talk about: viz. the behaviour, the suffering, of the socially sick. We might extend Foucault's point by claiming that the media's power is to 'invest life through and through' because they investigate behaviour again and again.

[example omitted]

115

Foucault emphasises not a conspiracy to subject citizens to State control but a location of subjects within discourses which incorporate power relations:

The exercise of power over the population and the accumulation of knowledge about it are two sides of a single process: not power and knowledge but knowledge-power (Sheridan, 1980: 162).

In press constructions of what are termed 'social issues' such as drug-related problems, a consensual paradigm is not merely constructed through assumptions made about 'us', the 'normal reader'. Rather, a particular conceptualization of an administered social world is taken-for-granted. In this the agents of surveillance, control, rectification and support—both social and individual—are conspicuous. Experts pronounce, authorities judge, helpers warn, scientists debate, bureaucrats plan. Scientistic, technicistic information, recommendations, and solutions abound. Delinquency or

116

deviance is not merely an anti-consensual threat. It is an 'effect' of these forms of knowledge-power. To quote Foucault again:

Delinquency, with the secret agents that it procures, but also with the generalized policing that it authorizes, constitutes a means of perpetual surveillance of the population: an apparatus that makes it possible to supervise, through the delinquents themselves, the whole social field. Delinquency functions as a political observatory. In their turn, the statisticians and the sociologists have made use of it, long after the police (1979 (a): 281).

So drug-related news can be seen as representations founded on the very discourses which Foucault identifies in relation to sexuality (or sensuality) and to 'delinquency'. By analogy with sexuality, news focuses on (1) the body of the consumer: her/his individual behaviour, health, pleasure: (2) the pedagogical: warnings to, information about, children, youth and other innocents; the family as socializing agent: (3) the need for and normality of surveillance and control of individual pleasure by means of elaborate corrective technologies of the State (medical, psychological, educational, penal).

By analogy with Foucault's history of the institutionalism of discipline and punitive institutions, drug news arguably embodies 'power-knowledge' relations appropriate to the 'universal reign of the normative' (1979 (a): 304).

I would therefore assert the need to move beyond the Consensual Paradigm by arguing two points. One is that what is significant in press reports of drug-related issues is not the construction of deviance per se, but the positive representation of the interventionist State: neither the Consensual Paradigm nor the media see the State as problematic. Both accept its roles as 'normal', historical and natural.

The press generally assumes a reader who accepts the monitoring and interventionist roles of the State on behalf of individual victims and against individual villains. Much 'drug-news' is therefore 'good news' in the sense that it represents the data, the practices and the values of the helping and controlling apparatuses of the State in relation to social and personal behaviour as the focus of the State's various agencies.

A second criticism of the Consensual Paradigm concerns the notion of the actual 'consensus' which the press supposedly assumes. If one contrasts drug stories with some other social welfare stories then the very notion of a consistent consensual assumption can be questioned.

For example, Golding and Middleton (1982) have studied the way the British press represents social welfare issues, including unemployment benefits and other forms of economic support to 'the public'. But 'the public' is a problematic category in such reporting: 'the public' ('us') is frequently contrasted with the bureaucracy ('them') which spends 'our' (the public's—ie. the taxpayers') money on victims (another class of 'them'). So in cases where social issues are seen as principally economic, Golding and Middleton did find a

117

predictable consensus-supporting assumption:

A populist-pluralist mix of strong commitments to self-help, individualism, and anti-bureaucracy and the work ethic filtered the more liberal and compassionate perceptions of the welfare state that are common among journalists in the field (1982: 152-3).

But anti-bureaucratic individualism and the normality of the work ethic are not unequivocally reflected in drug-related news. By defining the individual subject as biological-social, not as economic, drug related news represents the subject's relation to the bureaucratic State in quite different terms. In particular, it does not see the Welfare State simply as a necessary interventionist evil.

* * * * * *

To summarize, the Consensual Paradigm sees the consensus assumed by the press as one aspect of ideology, and therefore as illusory and functional in the maintenance of class relations which are rendered natural and unproblematic within mainstream Western media. Young (1981) qualifies this view, emphasizing the penetration of these ideological forms by audience needs and by the struggle of media which are relatively autonomous of the State. But my criticisms of the model are different.

I have argued that the Consensual Paradigm is limited because it implies too monolithic an 'inferential structure' in the media. 'Social issues' such as drug-use and abuse are historically specific and ideologically complex: they incorporate deeply ingrained discourses concerning the relation between the individual and the Welfare State, deviance and the normative society, which may conflict with the consensual assumptions made in other areas. There is a specific contradiction in the press between representations of the relationship between the State and economic subjects on the one hand, and between the State and bio-social subjects on the other.

The Social Welfare State may be represented as friend or as foe, depending on which general social discourses an area of news is anchored to. 'Drugs' are represented as problems for the State because they are problems for, and of, individuals—ie. they are social administrative problems.

In drug items a structured set of interacting agents play out a limited set of stories, repetitively making sense of drugs in terms of how the professional agents of social knowledge and control (helpers and heroes) fight for, help, and save a society which is itself represented by analogy with the passive and ignorant (potential) victims of the intrinsic power of drugs or of the villainy of powerful exploiters. So 'society' is defended by, and defined by, the administrative arm of the State.

News stories are always about 'someone else' yet they imply a concerned (even personally threatened) reader who shares their values concerning the normality of passivity in a society where heroes and helpers are always on hand to control and monitor the ubiquitous

118

threat that ignorance encourages. They see drug problems as social: almost exclusively concerned with consumption by individuals and the behaviour that this involves. They posit heroes and helpers acting on behalf of the administrative arm of society in just the right proportion to allay any excessive threat that the villainy of racketeers and the weakness of victims might arouse.

But they do more than this. They mark out the domain of the social as that in which the State is actively present, but positively so. It is an agent of knowledge and of control and rectification necessary and benign. It is because the press constitutes its readers as social subjects that its 'knowledge' is a form of power.

Macquarie University

119

References

Bell, P. (1982) Headlining Drugs, Sydney: N.S.W., C.E.I.D.A.

Foucault, M. (1979) Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, transl. by A. Sheridan, New York: Vintage Books.

Foucault, M. (1979 (a)) 'On Governmentality,' Ideology and Consciousness, No. 6, pp. 5-22.

Foucault, M. (1981) The History of Sexuality, London: Penguin.

Gandy, O. H. (1980) 'Information on Health: Subsidised News,' Media, Culture and Society, 2, pp. 103-115.

Golding, P. and Middleton, S. (1982) Images of Welfare, London: Blackwell.

Hall, S., et al. (1978) Policing the Crisis, London: Macmillan.

Hartley, J. (1982) Understanding News, London: Methuen.

Kevelson, R. (1977) The Inverted Pyramid: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Media Language, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kress, G., and Hodge, R. (1979) Language as Ideology, London: R.K.P.

Sheridan, A. (1980) Michael Foucault: The Will to Truth, London: Tavistock, 1980.

Young, J. (1974) 'Drugs and Deviance,' in Rock, P., and MacIntosh, M. (eds.), Deviance and Social Control.

Young, J. (1981) 'Beyond the Consensual Paradigm,' in Cohen. S., and Young, J. (eds.), The Manufacture of News (revised edition), London: Constable.


New: 30 June, 1997 | Now: 24 April, 2015