Crime and the media

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Crime and the Media

News coverage of crime:

·         Ericson et al 1991: in Toronto 45-71% of press reported crime/ deviance

·         Williams and Dickinson 1993: British newspapers devoted up to 30% of news space to crime

Distorted image of crime:




-46% media report of violent/ sexual crimes

-violent crimes reported 36x more likely

Violent/ sexual crimes make up 3%

-Ditton and Duffy 1983

-Marsh 1991

Old middle class victims

Younger range of class victims

Felson 1998 (age fallacy)

Police are largely successful

Not as successful at solving than shown

Because police are the source of info

High risk of victimisation especially female, white, higher status people

There is less risk


Crime is a series of separate events

Crime has structure and underlying causes


Extraordinary crimes

Committed by clever daring people

Many more ordinary crimes

Felson dramatic fallacy and ingenuity fallacy


Changes in reporting:

·         Schlesinger and Tumber 1994: in 1960s focus on murders and petty crime, 1990s not so much as death penalty abolished and rise of crime made other crimes boring. 1990’s media therefore covered wider range e.g. drugs, child abuse, terrorism.

·         Soothill and Walby 1991: 1951 – 1985 reporting of **** cases increased, and reported that **** came from “sex fiend” or “beast” not someone who the victim knew which was usually the reality.

News values and crime:

·         Distorted image of crime reflects fact that news is a social construction.

·         Cohen and Young 1973: news is not discovered by manufactured.

·         News is reported if it meets the criteria of “news values”, they are…

·         Novelty or unexpectedness

·         Risk

·         Violence

Rounded Rectangle: • Immediacy • Dramatisation • Personalisation • Higher status persons/ celebrities • Simplifications • noverty

Fictional representations of crime:

·         Mandel 1984: 1945-1984 over 10 billion crime thrillers were sold and 25% of prime time TV and 20% of films are crimes shows/ movies

·         Surette 1998: the law of opposites…




Less property crime

More property crime

Loads of violence, drugs and sex crimes

Not that many

Homicides product of greed and calculation

Homicides product of brawls and domestic disputes

Sex crimes committed by psychopathic strangers

Sex crimes committed by acquaintances

Villains are higher status, middle age white males

Not the truth

Cops get their man

Police are often unsuccessful


Three recent trends of fictional representations

1.    Reality “infotainment” shows tend to feature non-white underclass offenders

2.    Fictional media showing police as corrupt/ brutal/ less successful

3.    More victim coverage, law enforces portrayed as avengers, audiences can identify with suffering

The media as a cause of crime

·         Imitation

·         Arousal

·         Desensitisation

·         By transmitting knowledge of criminal techniques

·         As a target of crime

·         Stimulating desires for unaffordable goods

·         Portraying the police as incompetent

·         Glamorising offending



·         studies have found that media has a small/ limited negative effect on audiences

·         Schramm et al 1961:


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