Mass Media

I will begin with The Sun’s report of the 07 December 2009. “Meredith’s murder has torn our lives apart”. The Sun’s readership is to a large extent made up of people from socio-economic bands C and D, a large proportion of which is under thirty. To appeal to this demographic The Sun uses crude and colloquial language such as “sis” (informal contraction of sister), “mum Arlene”, “snaps of Meredith” and “larks about with pals”. This attempts to encourage the reader to identify with the victim’s family, whilst also betraying the fact that the readership is not highly educated.

As well as this, emotive language such as “caged” and “anguished”, “brutal killing” and “exhausted” are used to denote the extreme emotions of the victim’s family and provoke emotional reactions from the reader, as well as emphasizing their continuing suffering whilst portraying Knox as inhumanely as possible. The Sun’s article begins with a large portrait picture of Meredith Kercher wearing a mask of facepaint. This has connotations of the famous Venetian masquerade balls, which has ramifications for Kercher’s ultimate fate of being murdered in Italy.

The caption “Masked beauty … smiling Meredith in disguise” suggests that Kercher is being portrayed in romantic terms, and that she was the complete opposite of Knox. This caption seeks to present Kercher’s persona as overtly childlike and innocent, and the use of “disguised” suggests a playful and sweet temperament. In addition to this caption, Kercher is also portrayed as childlike in the quote “send your child to school and for them to not come back”. This seeks to present Kercher as a schoolgirl rather than as the adult she was.

It also has elements of fearmongering, highlighting the alleged danger of the outside world and prompting parents to question their child’s safety when they’re away from home. The omission of Kercher’s second name in the caption is designed to emphasise her youth and provoke directly sympathetic feelings towards her. It also exhibits elements of sexism through its portrayal of Kercher as a young woman who is essentially childlike with no adult qualities, whereas a young man in a similar situation would not be portrayed as such. It would seem that in this society it’s acceptable to infantilize women but not men.

The Sun refers to Knox as a “Caged … convicted killer” in a caption underneath a picture of Knox behind bars. This implies Knox has an animalistic temperament; that she is a ravenous killer with no human emotion and that she is somebody to be feared. This is in contrast to her co-conspirator’s caption “Behind bars… Rafaele Sollecito” which does not invoke the same feeling of fear, instead suggesting Sollecito was the junior partner in the killing. The Sun has also misspelt Raffaele’s first name, which hints at the lack of serious journalism present in the tabloid, and that their primary concern is not the facts.

The Sun has also sought to suggest that Knox’s pretence of innocence and self-portrait as a victim is less convincing than Knox would like. It achieves this first by quoting a “jail source” (which incidentally carries little credibility given that no names or work titles are mentioned, suggesting this is a mere statement and not a factual observation). The source says that; “She literally cried herself to sleep…. the end they both had a peaceful first night”, this implies that Knox’s tantrums and emotional outbursts are calculated attempts for sympathy, and that she’s actually quite serene.

It goes on to insinuate that Knox’s time in prison is not serving as a punishment and is actually a pleasant experience for her; “Continuing to practise her yoga… is studying Italian, German and Chinese… continues to play guitar and is acting in the drama group”. This is designed to enrage readers, and provoke indignation and disgust at the fact she is treating her confinement as a holiday camp, “regime” suggests not a systematic punishment but an itinerary of activities for her to do.

The quote about Kercher’s family “still battling desperately” evokes pity and sympathy for the family’s continuous suffering inflicted by Knox’s persistent appealing. The next report is from the conservative broadsheet The Telegraph, dated 6 December 2009. Its headline “Amanda Knox: guilty… but of what? ” is of all three articles the most critical of the judgment. This enigmatic headline has been crafted in order to entice readers with the promise of a new and seemingly controversial angle of already familiar material, so as to make it appear fresh and interesting.

A picture of Knox, not behind bars and wearing a cautiously hopeful smile, follows immediately below the headline. This suggests the paper is attempting to cast Knox in a more positive light than The Sun; its caption “Amanda Knox will spend her 23rd birthday behind bars” is not relevant to the photo but deliberately placed there to invoke sympathy for Knox and her plight. The subheading has also been designed with the intent of questioning and undermining the credibility of a guilty verdict. A list of rhetorical questions in the subheading (“What was the motive?

How reliable was the DNA evidence? Was Rudy Guede, already convicted, the sole killer? “), is deliberately sowing doubt amongst its readership by presenting argument as fact, and thus providing the reader with ammunition to dismiss or at the very least question Knox’s alleged guilt. The article begins by describing the “ingredients” that culminated in the murder of Kercher and trial of Knox, which in turn suggests a planned and calculated attempt by the media to portray Knox as a killer. The calculation of the “recipe” metaphor suggests that Knox has been caught by a plan outside of her control.

Contrasting and conflicting adjectives are used throughout the opening paragraph, “laborious… gung-ho… titillating… grotesquely”. These paint a deliberately dramatic and exaggerated picture of events at their most theatrical. This proliferation of adjectives is alienating, encouraging the reader to draw back a little from the “official story” and be more critical. The Telegraph describes Knox’s reaction to the news of a guilty verdict as “Amanda Knox collapsed sobbing into the arms of her solicitor… shaking uncontrollably, she screamed: (“No, no”)”.

The initial response of the reader would probably be negative. The immediate reaction might be to dismiss Knox as a hysterical and psychotic woman bent on seeking attention. However, when viewed as a whole with the rest of this broadly positive piece it becomes altogether more sympathetic. The connotations of screaming ‘No No’ in court, when counted with the article’s critical examination of the evidence, are of shock and astonishment rather than a fear of punishment or a refusal to accept guilt. From this we can conclude that the article initially appears to give one message but on closer inspection presents another.

This article is far more ambiguous than it initially appears because its initial formulations on Knox’s behaviour appear to be negative, but on a second reading they are actually positive. This ambiguity can also be seen in The Telegraph’s description of Knox’s character. Throughout the article Knox is frequently subject to apparent vilification, such as in the phrase “through the scrutiny of her self-styled soubriquet Foxy Knoxy”, which depicts Knox as vain and pretentious in her use of a boastful pseudonym, and her “lurid” stories on violent rape, which suggest at a disturbed individual with a taste for violence.

However this is a marker of the sophistication of the article, which does acknowledge Knox’s more unpleasant characteristics, but does not present them as an affirmation of guilt. In this quote, “Knox, by contrast, believes it is she who has been the victim of injustice”, the writer’s use of “believe”, which indicates a genuinely held truth rather than an impersonal claim of innocence, is a strong indicator of her personal feelings towards Knox, that she does indeed believe she is not guilty. These provide contrasting opinions from British media; in contrast I will now study an American conservative broadsheet, The Washington Post.

Its headline “U. S. student found guilty of murder in Italy”, is the most objective and least obviously biased of the three headlines. The headline is impersonal; its immediate message is of an American student, rather than the individual Amanda Knox, being found guilty of murder. The deliberate exclusion of Knox’s name, already well known to American households, is a deliberate attempt at provoking patriotic awareness in the reader. A picture of Knox being escorted by two Italian policemen follows imminently after the headline.

In it Knox’s strikingly pale demeanour subtly suggests mistreatment at the hands of the Italian prison service. The picture has connotations of the “condemned man” being led to the gallows. Knox’s facial expressions suggest fear, provoking empathy from the reader, as she and her two escorts look straight ahead into a seemingly unseen danger. Knox’s petite figure in between two large Italian officers implies a weakness and fragility on her part, which seems to symbolise the way the whole Italian system is weighted against her.

Evidence of bias can also be seen in the quote “They’re convicting ‘Foxy Knoxy. ‘ That’s not Amanda”. The decision to include this emotional quote from Knox’s friend is almost misleading, as it suggests that the pseudonym “Foxy Knoxy” has been invented by the media and that Knox has been a victim of slander and mischaracterization. It also implies a certain vindictiveness on the part of the Italian courts, suggesting that they’ve punished Knox for her alleged behaviour as “Foxy Knoxy” rather than for any involvement in the murder of Kercher.

Further evidence of bias can be seen in the use of Raffaele Sollecito’s full name in The Washington Post, which denotes a mark of respect that is not reciprocated in The Telegraph, where he is referred to as “Raff Sollecito”, suggesting negative connotations of riffraff and delinquency. The moments after Knox learns of the guilty verdict are described thus; “Knox began weeping, murmured No, no, and then hugged one of her lawyers”. This creates an immediate sympathetic reaction from the reader.

The connotations of “murmured No, No” are of exhaustion and despair, evoking pity in the reader, whilst this reaction is also tempered with subtle hints of self-reassurance. Knox’s reaction is depicted as much more restrained and dignified than that of The Telegraph, suggesting that The Washington Post’s portrayal of events has been subject to interpretation in an attempt to make Knox appear as innocent as possible. Both The Washington Post and The Telegraph seek to use the stereotype of high achievement in an attempt to gain sympathy for Knox and Kercher respectively.

The Telegraph presents Kertcher as the morally superior “studious… former public school girl”, with all the attributes of intelligence, grace and etiquette that implies. Whereas The Washington Post describes Knox as having “made the dean’s list at the University of Washington”, implying that having been honoured for her academic prowess, Knox is virtually incapable of cruelty or murder. The Washington Post goes so far to compare Knox to “film character Amelie, the innocent and dreamy girl”, portraying Knox as the embodiment of innocence and kindness, a wholesome American good girl.

In this subtle manner The Washington Post’s article proclaims its bias towards Knox. In conclusion, by examining the language and style of each article we can determine the aims of each writer, what they’re trying to achieve and who they’re trying to influence. The focus of The Sun’s article is Meredith Kercher’s family in the aftermath of her death. This is a human interest piece, its primary focus being the human suffering of the victim’s family rather than the trial.

This article has been written so to as appeal to an uneducated and populist readership, who seek entertainment above all else (although it may appear cynical to refer to The Sun’s piece as a tool for generating entertainment, this is their aim). The focus of The Telegraph is the re-examination of evidence and a reconsidered evaluation of events prior to and subsequent killing of Kercher. Though this is an opinion piece, it does have subtle elements of investigative journalism. It demonstrates this is shown through the suggestion of Knox’s innocence, contrary to the orthodoxy of general public opinion.

This article is designed to appeal to an intellectually sophisticated reader; this is seen through its subtle intentions and varied vocabulary. The focus of The Washington Post is the factual representation of the event, and of the three is the most neutral in its portrayal of the perpetrators. However it does display elements of bias towards Knox, and in so doing appeals to the American patriotic and nationalistic reader. These examples underline the importance of using more than one media source, and to be aware of the subtle influences which underpin the presentation of media issues.

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