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Crime and the media
Ericson et al found in Toronto that 45-71% of quality press and radio news was about various forms
of deviance and its control. Williams and Dickinson found British newspapers devote up to 30% of the
news space to crime. But media gives a distorted image of crime, criminals and policing:
The media over-represent violent and sexual crime: Ditton and Duffy found 46% of media
reports were about violent or sexual crimes, yet these made up only 3% of all crimes
reported by the police. Marsh found in USA that a violent crime was 36 times more likely to
be reported than a property crime.
The media portray criminals and the victims as older and more middle class: than those
typically found in the criminal justice system. Felson calls this the `age fallacy'.
Media coverage exaggerates police success: Police are a major source of crime stories and
want to be presented in a good light.
The media exaggerates the risk of victimisation: especially to women, white people and
higher status people.
Crime is reported as a series of separate events: Without structure and without examining
The media overplays extraordinary crimes: Felson calls this the `dramatic fallacy'. Media
leads us to believe that to commit crime (and solve it) one needs to be daring and clever
the `ingenuity fallacy'.
Schlesinger and Tumber found that in the 60s the focus had been murders and petty crime, this
changed in the 90s, as due to the abolition of the death penalty, and now its reporting are of drugs,
child abuse, terrorism, mugging and football hooliganism. Soothill and Walby found newspaper
reporting of rape cases increased from a quarter of all cases in 1951 to over a third in 1985.
News values and crime coverage
Distorted picture of crime shown by the media reflects the fact that news is a social construction
outcome of a social process where some potential stories are selected while others rejected. Cohen
and Young note that news is not discovered but manufactured. News values are the criteria by which
editors decide whether a story is newsworthy to be published. Key news values influencing selection
of crime stories include:
Dramatisation action and excitement
Personalisation human interest stories about individuals
Higher status persons and `celebs'
Simplification eliminating shades of gray
Novelty or unexpectedness a new angle
Risk victim-centred stories about vulnerability and fear
Violence especially visible and spectacular acts
News media give so much coverage to crime as it focuses on the unusual and extraordinary, this
makes it newsworthy.
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Fictional representations of crime
TV, cinema and novels are also important sources of our knowledge of crime.…read more
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`normal' rather than criminal may also encourage people to commit crime. Left realists argue that
mass media help increase sense of relative deprivation. Lea and Young see the mass media has
portrayed a lifestyle in which the unemployed and the lower working class are unable to fund for the
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It assumes that societal reaction is a disproportionate over-reaction but who decides what
a proportionate reaction is. Relates to left realists' view as people's fear of crime is real.
How do the media decide on which problem to amplify into a panic? Why doesn't the panic
Does the public react with panic to media exaggerations McRobbie and Thornton argue
that moral panics are now routine and have less impact.…read more