Psychological responses to coverage of crime in the Beeld newspaper.

Thompson, Talia
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This research study aimed to explore the psychological impact of coverage of crime in the Beeld newspaper. The context of “the Afrikaner”1 in contemporary South Africa and the media portrayal of crime in the Beeld newspaper were also important areas of focus in the study. Participants in the research study came from the Afrikaans speaking community in Johannesburg and included nine women and five men. Three focus groups were conducted in Afrikaans and the sessions were recorded and transcribed. The transcripts were then analyzed using an interpretative thematic analytic approach. The goal was to explore the psychological experiences of reading reports of crime in relation to vicarious or indirect traumatization and meaning making and understandings of crime. The main themes were identified and related to the four main areas of interest including: 1) vicarious and indirect traumatization, 2) meaning making and understandings of crime, 3) “the Afrikaner” identity in contemporary South Africa, and 4) the impressions of media portrayal of crime in the Beeld newspaper. Each theme is discussed in terms of how participants described their experiences in relation to the theme, various sub-categories are identified where appropriate and each theme discussion concludes with an overview and theoretical discussion. This study illustrates that exposure to accounts of crime can be emotionally distressing, especially given that South Africans are repeatedly exposed to indirect anecdotal accounts of crime in their daily lives. Meaning making processes are challenged and South Africans may find it difficult to understand why crime happens and what the underlying intentions are of those committing criminal acts. “The Afrikaner” in South Africa may be vulnerable to experiencing particular forms of emotional distress and negative cognitions due to various historical and current social factors. The way in which the Beeld reports on crime was viewed as contributing to indirect traumatization and as contributing to biases in the construction of crime. There was evidence of a capacity to engage thoughtfully and critically with the material and the topic and this highlighted the active role that readers may play in engaging with media coverage of crime.