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    STUDIA PHILOSOPHIA - Issue no. 1 / 2010  

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  Abstract:  Though former South African President Thabo Mbeki gained international notoriety as an AIDS-denialist, in South Africa it may be that his rhetorical responses on the topic of violent crime were as important in damaging his reputation with white citizens in particular. This article argues that there is a family resemblance between Mbeki`s rhetoric of AIDS-denialism and his responses to claims that violent crime was increasing and affecting the lives of most South African citizens -- Mbeki`s rhetorical responses treat social phenomena, whether a pandemic or a crime wave, primarily as constructs of a particular political view or interest if not simply as moral panics. Thus Mbeki was able to treat both claims that AIDS and violent crime were major threats to South Africa as white constructs that stemmed from racial suspicions about black South Africans and black men, in particular. An anti-rhetoric of rape, in particular, linked Mbeki`s suspicion of both medical and criminal discourses. This article will explore the possibility that the dominant international intellectual models about crime not only influenced then President Mbeki''s suspicion of crime coverage but, by extension, helped fuel a wider suspicion of any negative reporting. Mbeki`s rhetoric on crime, however, has a rather more respectable genealogy than his rhetoric of AIDS-denialism. Influential strands of media theorising about crime hold that media exaggerate the extent of crime, particularly violent crime, demonise certain racial minorities, and produce fearful citizens. This article contends that much of this theorising is conceptually limited, even incoherent, in that it cannot account significantly for questions of under-reporting crime or compare crime coverage nationally or internationally in any coherent way. It returns to Graber’s work to draw particularly on her notion of ‘just proportionality’ to argue that this provides a benchmark for comparative, non-normative judgments of coverage on crime.

Keywords: rhetoric of crime, media coverage, just proportionality, justice, social significance
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