Media representations of crime
The news media give a distorted image of crime, criminal and policing.
- The media over-represent violent and sexual crime.
- The media portray criminals and victims as older and more middle-class than those usually found in the criminal justice system.
- The media exaggerate police success in clearing up cases.
- The media exaggerate the risk of victimisation, e.g. to women.
- Crime is reported as a series of seperate events without examining uderlying causes.
- The media overplay extraordinary crimes - Felson calls this the 'dramatic fallacy'.
News values and crime coverage
Cohen and Young (1973) note that news is not discovered but manufactured:
- News doesn't just simply exist 'out there' waiting to be gathered in and written up by the journalist.
- Instead, it is the outcome of a social porcess whereby some potential stories are selected while others are rejected.
New values - the criteria that journalists and editors use in order to decide whether a story is newsworthy enough to make it into the newspaper or news bulletin.
Key news values influencing the selection of crime stories include:
- Dramatisation - action and excitement.
- Personalisation - human interest stories about individuals.
- Higher-status persons and 'celebrities'.
- Simplification - eliminating shades of grey.
- Novelty or unexpectedness - a new angle.
- Risk - victim-centred stories about vulnerability and fear.
- Violence - especially visible and spectacular acts.
Fictional representations of crime
Fictional representations from TV, cinema and novels are also important sources of our knowledge of crime, because so much of their output is crime-related.
- Mandel (1984) estimates that from 1945 to 1984, over 10 billion crime thrillers were sold worldwide.
- About 25% of prime time TV and 20% of films are crime shows or movies.
- Property crime is under-represented, while violence, drugs and sex crimes are over-represented.
- Fictional sex crimes are committed by psychopathic strangers, not aqquaintances.
- Fictional cops usually get their man.
However, there are three recent trends:
- 'Reality' shows tend to feature young, non-white 'underclass' offenders.
- There is an increasing tendency to show police as corrupt, brutal and less successful.
- Victims have become more central, with police portrayed as avengers and audiences invited to identify with their suffering.
The media as a cause of crime
There are several ways in which the media might cause crime and deviance, including:
- Imitation - by providing deviant role models, resulting in 'copycat' behaviour.
- Arousal, e.g. through viewing violent imagery.
- Desensitisation through repeated viewing of violence.
- Transmitting knowledge of criminal techniques.
- Stimulating desires for unaffordable oods, e.g. through advertising.
- Glamourising …