Crime & the Media


What We Know About Crime/What We Think We Know

  • Foucault: society is a form of social control, e.g. CCTV
  • Garland: changes in the culture of control are largely due to technological advances
  • Varioous agencies have a role in deciding what the media finds out, e.g. the police, goverment
  • We each have a different level of exposure to crime which is difficult to measure
  • Media uses pictures as a powerful tool that increases the amount of information that we remember 
  • Billions of acts of deviance/crrime on a daily basis but only becomes news if someone in journalism reports it
  • Journalists and their environment determines which events are reported and which are not

Hall (1978)

  • Idea that society has the same interests/perspective
  • Media is owned/controlled by the elite so reflects their interests
  • Primary definers: those in power; the spokespeople
  • Secondary definers: the media who reproduce the interests of the primary definers

Greer & Reiner (2012)

  • Media = subtle form of social control as it plays a role in controlling the availability of information and is subversive/a source of criminality
1 of 12


Chibnall (1977)

  • Immediacy: event that has just happened
  • Dramatisation: action
  • Personalisation: involvement of a celebrity
  • Simplification: black and white; no grey area
  • Titillation: arousal/excitement; can't help but read it
  • Structured Access: involvement of experts/authority and their opinion
  • Novelty: a twist/speculation
  • Conventionalism: hegemonic ideology

Jewkes (2004)

  • Risk: extent to which the police keep us safe and the extent to which we need to keep ourselves safe
  • Children: involvement of children increases likelihood of a story being considered newsworthy
  • Proximity: geographical proximity and cultural proximity (how relevant the story is for its intended audience)
2 of 12

Crime Content in the Media

Greer (2003)

  • Deviant behaviour makes the news easily 
  • Rate that police 'clear-up' crime is exaggerated
  • Offenders mentioned in national newspapers are of a higher socio-economic group and are older than is generally the case within the CJS
  • Risk of victimisation for white females of a higher socio-economic group is exaggerated

Williams & Dickinson (1993)

  • Between 5 - 30% of newspaper content is about crime and justice
  • More radio content is about crime and justice compared to newspaper content - preference for hearing about such topics rather than reading about it
3 of 12

Moral Panics

Cohen (1972)

  • Event that has been exaggerated by the media 
  • Identification of a folk devil - who society should fear as they threaten the interests of society, easily identifiable as they have been characterised by a symbol; symbol carries more importance than the person who carries it
  • Signification spiral - interaction between moral entrepreneurs and the mass media in the creation of a folk devil
  • Reinforced through the opinion of experts
  • Can have lasting effects; or disappears and becomes a memory
  • E.g. mods and rockers 

Thomson (1998) identified 5 elements to a moral panic:

  • Identification of a threat
  • Threat is defined by the media so that it's easily recognisable
  • Quick build-up of concern - creation of momentum/snowball effect = past the point of no return
  • Response from authorities/those in power
  • Panic disappears or changes in social/political policies are made
4 of 12

Role of Violence

5 Factors that Influence Reporting of Violence

  • Visable and spectacular acts
  • Sexual and/or political connotations
  • Graphic presentation
  • Individual pathology - e.g. dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia and psychopathy get extra media attention
  • Deterrence and repression
  • In Scotland, 46% of crime news is about violent/sexual crime yet this accounts for 3% of police recorded crime (Ditton & Duffy, 1983)
  • Sex crime is common yet the cases portrayed in the media are highly selective
  • Idea of a 'sex beast'/'sex fiend' - have the same characteristics, e.g. are lonely
  • Theme of linking sex offences and links to previous sex fiends, e.g. the Ripper
  • Discovery of a p aedophile particularly exploded during 1990s
  • Moral panic about sex offending and notifying local authorities about convicted sex offenders in the community led to policy changes in UK (Sarah's law) and US (Megan's law)
  • Selective portrayal of specific facts
5 of 12

Is the Media Criminogenic?

E.g. youth crime is largely blamed on exposure to violence through different forms of media which results in a moral panic, such as 'video nasties', video games, horror movies (James Bulger case)

  • Labelling: defining certain groups/behaviours as deviant/a threat
  • Deviancy amplification: exaggerated amount of harm a behaviour causes
  • Creation of moral panics
  • Creating excitement for personal desires: e.g. for material gain which some can only obtain illegally
  • Creating sexual arousal: e,g, violent/sexual/pornographic images lead to some wanting to recreate these for themselves
  • Desensitisation: repeated viewing of violence so it no longer becomes shocking
  • Glamourises offending: being remembered
  • Imitation: copycat crimes; 90% of offenders have improved their criminal techniques by watching crime programmes (Jewkes, 2004)
  • Undermining the credibility of the CJS
6 of 12

Approaches in the Effects of the Media

Mass Society Approaches 

  • Originated after WWII
  • Idea that society has become increasingly individualised and disorderly as a result
  • This means the media has become increasingly important in influencing and potentially manipulating public opinion


  • Crime as a learned behaviour/direct link between external stimuli, e.g. the media and human behaviour
  • Experiments such as Bandura's bobo doll study aim to see if watching violent/sexual images result in a change of behaviour


  • Little evidence that actually links the media with behaviour that is associated with offending - however the media frequently hold rap music, violent video games and horror movies responsible for youth crime
7 of 12

Media Effects

  • Large body of research attempting to identify and isolate the effect of the media 
  • E.g. correlations between what a person sees and their subsequent behaviour
  • Many studies show that there is an effect, although the effect is small

Possible reasons that explain the correlation

  • More aggressive people choose to watch more violent programmes
  • Violent programmes make people who watch them more violent
  • Certain circumstances make people more aggressive, and in turn more likely to watch violent programmes


  • Use of artificial stimuli rather than real TV programmes
  • Only measures short term effects/lack of follow-up studies
  • Definitions of violence are subjective
  • Lab experiments are artificial
8 of 12

Crime and the Internet

Wall (2001)

4 types of cyber-crime:

  • Cyper-trespass: crossing into someone else's property, e.g. hacking
  • Cyber-deceptions and theft: stealing, e.g. credit card fraud
  • Cyber-p ornography
  • Cyber-violence: psychological harm or inciting physical violence
  • New media generally creates a moral panic, e.g. dangers of the internet
  • Cyber crimes are hard to police due to the sheer size and complexity of them
  • The nature of cyber-crime is constantly changing so it is difficult for the police to keep up
9 of 12

Policing and the Media

Reiner (1994)

  • Police have a department dedicated to dealing with the press
  • Newspapers are largely reliant on the police for information
  • A good relationship is reliant on goodwill and cooperation
  • Since the creation of the police, how they are seen by the public has always had to be managed
  • The period of time in which a TV programme is created reflects how the police are portrayed
  • Nowadays they are generally seen through a rose-tinted lens and portrayed as courageous, determined and dedicated
10 of 12

Definitions of Crime News

Crime News as Hegemony in Action

  • What is deemed newsworthy is evidence of authority exercising their power - relationship between social order and the reporting of crime through the media
  • Hegemony = dominant social class
  • Links between hegemony and masculinity - men must act masculine as they are dominant in society and this is reflected in the frequent reporting of spousal homicide
  • Links with Marxism - news is controlled by the elite as they own the media; victims of crime are often the powerless proleteriat

Crime News as Cultural Conflict

  • News about crime is the result of interaction between different factors
  • Interaction between different political parties and their objectives, and everyday pressures
11 of 12

Drug Use & Deviancy Amplification

Jock (1973)

  • West London in 1960s during a moral panic about drugs
  • Considerable differences between the fantasy stereotype of people who smoke cannabis and the reality of such
  • Increased sense of unity amongst drug users due to misrepresentation by the press
  • Increased police presence meant that drug users felt the need to protect themselves, mainly done by segregating themselves from non-drug users and making the division more visable, e.g. having long hair and wearing more unusual clothing
  • Identification with their label
  • Made entrance back into society more difficult
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Criminology resources:

See all Criminology resources »See all Crime & the Media resources »