Crime and deviance: the mass media

  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 14-04-14 19:40

Media reporting of crime

news media cannot report everything that happens, so they select material according to a set of news values. These include:

  • unexpectedness - rare or unusual behaviour
  • negativity - a tragic or disturbing event
  • immediacy - events that happen suddenly, as opposed to slowly developing trends
  • continuity - choosing events that link with similar ones
  • as a result more likely to report on murder than bicycle theft, despite the latter being more common - creates distorted view of frequency of crime
  • value results in a high proportion of similar cases, such as muggings, being published over a certain period, giving false impression there is a crime wave(Fishman, 1973) - subsides when new topic is found, but makes people fearful of going outside, enabling criminals to act more freely
  • Marxists suggest the media is influenced by the central value system(r/c ideology) because most media owners are right wing and choose editors/journalists accordingly. Agenda setting occurs so that w/c crime over-emphasised and offenders described in alarming terms, while corp/white collar crime recieves less coverage and presented as respectable
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Media amplification of crime

Jock Young - The Drug Takers(1971)

  • looked at how some drugs, caffeine and cherry, are constructed as acceptable drugs, yet cannibis is not. Through participant observation he noticed how marijuana users in Nottinghill led normal lives until the police decided to crackdown on the habit and the media publicised it. The users became secretive and formed subcultures - many eventually dropped out of normal life and even took harder drugs. Their primary deviance became serious secondary deviance in response to action by authority.

Stanley Cohen - Folk Devils and Moral Panics(1972)

  • isolated fights between young people at Clacton on Easter Weekend 1964. Media were short of news, so the media exaggerated implying the Mods and Rockers hated each other. Attracted bored youths to potential trouble spots and to join one group or another, while the press whipped up hostility between them. Police felt pressured to arrest more than usual. The media created a moral panic by presenting youths as folk devils resulting in deviancy amplification. Cohen interviewed those involved and compared with media reports.
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Media amplification of crime(cont.)

Stuart Hall - Policing The Crisis(1972)

  • 1972 - gov. mishandling of various events made it very unpopular. Using media analysis, Hall argued journalists scapegoated young black males by presenting exaggerated stories of mugging, to frighten the public into supporting police crackdown. Some black youths became angry at constant stop and searches, leading to increased public order offences and a self fulfilling prophecy.


Young, Cohen and Hall all had left-wing bias. Interactionists believe those who label are responsible for crimes becoming more serious, whereas opponents argue offenders have free will so are responsible for thier own actions.

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Global communication and crime

some crimes have become possible or easier due to the growth of international media.

  • financial fraud and theft of confidential information - hacking internet accounts
  • widespread publication of ***********
  • spreading of hate crime, terrorist and extremist ideas that threaten individuals or governments
  • cyber-bullying and grooming of children via the internet
  • using internet for plagiarism
  • international publicity can be used to catch criminals and solve crimes, as in widespread publication of April jones's abduction
  • people are encouraged to behave pro-socially by media messages such as disaster appeals
  • what some people regard as extremist, others may see as progressive - such as the Arab spring
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Views on media effects

alternate views on how the media may influence individuals:

  • Hypodermic syringe or magic bullet model - people imitate what they have recently seen as if they have been injected with the message
  • Audience selection or uses and gratifications model: people only watch what they enjoy or find acceptable, so media do not change values quickly, but there could be gradual desensitisation as people use greater violence on screen
  • cultural effects model: we cannot seperate the influence of the emdia from the influence of society since media reflects socities values.
  • structured interpretation model: different audiences derive different readings from the same media text.

most reject hypodermic syringe model as too symplistic. The less sosphisticated may be aroused to engage in other deviant behaviour or become disinhibited, as acts become normal after seeing them repeatedly on screen.

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Views on media effects(cont.)

experiments that support the view that children imitate antiscoial behaviour:

  • Bandura, Ross and Ross(1963) - children who witnessed adults attacking a doll without being punished were more inclined than the control group to attack dolls.
  • Stein and Friedrich(1972) - nursery age children played more aggressively after watching Batman and Superman programmes than those who watched neutral programmes. Aggression was mostly expressed as immitation rather than toward their peers.


  • both experiments lacked ecological validity - limited relevance to the type of violence children usually watch. Failed to follow up to see if they continued being aggressive
  • ethical issues in conducting experiments which may make viewers more aggressive.

Fesbach and Singer(1971) - people who watch violent media might satisfy their desire for excitement, making them less likely to commit crime.

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