Crime and the Media..

  • Created by: Oohla
  • Created on: 27-05-15 16:55

Media representations of crime..

  • The media over-represents violent and sexual crime. One review by Marsh of studies of news reporting in America found that a violent crime was 36 more times likely to be reported than a property crime. 
  • The media portrays criminals and 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 in clearing up cases. This is partly because the police are a major source of crime stories and want to present themselves in a good light.
  • The media exaggerates the risk of victimisation, especially to women, white people and higher status individuals.
  • Crime is reported as a series of separate events without structure and without examining underlying causes.
  • The media overplay extraordinary crimes and underplay ordinary crimes- Felson calls this the ‘dramatic fallacy’. Similarly, media images lead us to believe that to commit crime one needs to be daring and clever- the ‘ingenuity fallacy’.
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News values and crime coverage..

  • The distorted picture of crime painted by the news media reflects the fact that news is a social construction- news does not simply exist ‘out there’ waiting to be gathered in.
  • Rather, it is the outcome of a social process in which some potential stories are selected while others are rejected. As Cohen and Young note, news is not discovered but manufactured. Whether a story makes it into the news depends on 'news values'.
  • News values are the criteria by which journalists and editors decide whether a story is newsworthy enough to make it into the newspaper or news bulletin. If a crime story can be told in terms of some of these criteria, it has a better chance of making the news. Key news values influencing the selection of crime stories include: Immediacy, dramatisation, higher status individuals, violence and risk.
  • One reason why the news media give so much coverage to crime is that news focuses on the unusual and extraordinary and this makes deviance newsworthy by definition, since it is abnormal behaviour.
  • This usually leads to a 'crackdown' on the group. However, this may create a self-fulfilling prophecy that amplifies the very problem that caused the panic in the first place.
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Fear of crime..

Media may be distorting the public's impression of crime and leading to an unrealistic fear.

Research evidence to some extent supports the view that there is a link between media use and fear of crime. Example - In the USA, Gerber et al found that heavy users of TV had higher levels of fear of crime.

Schlesinger and Tumber (1992) - found a correlation between media consumption and fear of crime, with tabloid readers expressing a greater fear of becoming a victim, especially of physical attack and mugging. 

Sparks (1992) notes much 'media effects' research ignores the meanings that viewers give to media violence. Example - They may give different meanings to violence in cartoons, horrors and news. 

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Mods and rockers - Cohen..

Cohen examines the media's response to disturbances between two groups of largely working-class teenagers, the mods and the rockers, at English seaside responds from 1964 to 1966. Although the disorder was relatively minor, the media over-reacted. In his analysis, Cohen uses the analogy of a disaster, where the media produces an inventory or stocktaking of what happened. Cohen says this inventory contained three elements:

  • Exaggeration and distortion- the media exaggerated the numbers involved and the extent of the violence and damage, and distorted the picture through dramatic reporting.
  • Prediction- the media regularly assumed and predicted further conflict and violence would result.
  • Symbolisation- The symbols of the mods and rockers were all negatively labelled and associated with deviance.

Cohen argues that the media's portrayal of events produced a deviance amplification spiral by making it seem as if the problem was spreading and getting out of hand. This led to calls for an increased control response from the police and courts. This produced further marginalisation and stigmatisation of the mods and rockers as deviants.

The media further amplified the deviance by defining the two groups and their subcultural style. This led to more youths adopting these styles and drew in more participants for future clashes. This encouraged polarisation and helped to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of escalating conflict as youths acted out the roles the media had assigned them. Cohen notes that in large scale modern societies, most people have no direct experience of the events themselves and thus have to rely on the media for information about them.

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Mods and rockers - The wider context..

Cohen argues that moral panics often occur at times of social change, reflecting the anxieties many people feel when accepted values seem to be undermined. He argues that the moral panic was a result of a boundary crisis, where there was uncertainty about the where the boundary law between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a time of change. 

From a functionalist perspective, moral panics can be seen as ways of responding to the sense of anomie or normlessness created by change. By dramatising the threat to society in the form of a folk devil, the media raises the collective consciousness and reasserts social controls when central values are threatened.

In addition, commentators have claimed to identify numerous other examples of folk devils and moral panics in recent decades e.g. single parents.

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Criticisms of the idea of moral panics..

  • It assumes that the societal reaction is a disproportionate over-reaction- but who is to decide what a proportionate reaction, and what is a panicky one? This relates to the left realist view that people's fear of crime is in fact rational.
  • What turns the 'amplifier' on and off: why are the media able to amplify some problems into a panic, but not others? Why do panics no go on increasing indefinitely once they have started?
  • Do today's media audiences, who are accustomed to 'shock, horror' stories, really react with panic to media exaggerations? McRobbie and Thornton argue that moral panics are now routine and have less impact. Lifestyle choices that were condemned 40 years ago, such as single motherhood, are no longer universally regarded as deviant so it is harder for the media to create panics about them.
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Global cyber-crime..

The internet creates opportunities to commit both 'conventional crimes' such as fraud and 'new crimes using new tools', such as software piracy. Wall (2001) identifies four categories of cyber crime:

  • Cyber-trespass- crossing boundaries into others' cyber property. It includes hacking and sabotage, such as spreading viruses. EX) Gary McKinnon hacking into 97 U.S NASA computers.
  • Cyber-deception and theft- including identity theft, 'phishing' and violation of intellectual property rights.
  • Cyber-***********- including **** involving minors and opportunities for children to access **** on the Net. 
  • Cyber-violence- doing psychological harm or inciting physical harm. Cyber-violence includes cyber stalking, hate crimes against minority groups etc.

Policing cyber-crime is difficult partly because of the sheer scale of the Internet and the limited resources of the police and also because of its globalised nature, which poses problems of jurisdiction.
However, the new ICT also provides the police and state with greater opportunities for surveillance and control of the population. As Jewkes argues, ICT permits routine surveillance through the use of CCTV cameras, electronic databases, digital fingerprinting and 'smart' identity cards. 

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