Discuss the influence of press and media in shaping the public’s fear about crime. Use examples from recent press and media coverage of crime to illustrate your answer. An area that has caused much debate in criminology is the significance of the media and the effect is has on fear of crime. Fear of crime is very difficult to measure as there are different types of fear and also different levels of fear but it is believed that the press and media can influence an individual to think that they are more likely to become a victim of crime.
In today’s society with the development of technology and the fact that information is so readily available, more people are now aware of the amount of crime that occurs. The question is, are we getting a true representation of different types of crime? Nowadays a newspaper or TV news report is more likely to show cases of murder or sexual assault because they know it will sell copies and that it will grasp the attention of the audience.
This is because the story has been deemed “newsworthy” or in other words, what a reporter thinks the public will want to hear about. Chibnall (1977) briefly outlined in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner’s “The Oxford Handbook of Criminology” recognised eight imperatives of newsworthiness: Immediacy, Dramatisation, Personalisation, Simplification, Titillation, Conventionalism, Structured Access and Novelty and therefore we are more likely to hear about a story if it has just happened, if it is violent or sexual and if it is about a celebrity.
Later three more imperatives of newsworthiness were recognised: Risk, Proximity and Children (Jewkes 2004). In the past, newspapers and TV news were simply to give the public information that they needed to know and with the advance of technology this has now become dramatised.
In 2011 the number of violent crimes committed in England and Wales has decreased by 9% since 2010 (British Crime Survey 2011) but this has not been reflected in the media as, generally, the TV and newspapers tend to publicise serious crime on a day-to-day basis and therefore there will be a difference in the perception of crime rates and the official statistics as this would lead the public to believe that such crimes are an everyday occurrence which is, evidently, inaccurate. Non violent crimes are the most common crimes internationally but rarely get published in newspapers.
Barbara Sims, Berwood Yost and Christina Abbott carried out a study into the Efficacy of Victim Services Programs. They surveyed 660 people about their experiences with crime and found out that only 98 respondents (17%) had been a victim of a violent crime where as the remaining 83% were victims of non-violent crimes (Sims, B. , Yost, B. and Abbot, C. 2006). This shows that the media is not representing the statistics on an international scale. The TV news is also not a true representation of crime.
TV news are more likely to show injuries or deaths because they have better graphic representation and this is what they use to get the public’s attention. The main question is: can we believe everything the news tells us and are we getting the full story? For television, the most important thing is getting high ratings and therefore TV news reports are more likely to exaggerate certain types of crime to make more people watch it. Recently in the news there was a story about a 59 year-old woman who was stabbed to death in London.
Both Sky News and the BBC covered this story however there were differences in the reports. The BBC interviewed members of the public who all said it was “a random attack” and they showed Detective Supt Keith Niven of the Metropolitan Police stating that, “Thankfully incidents of this nature are rare” which would put the viewer at ease whereas Sky News had no mention of this and went into more detail about the attacks which could increase the audience’s fear of crime. TV news reports also show negative representations of stereotypes such as “hoodies”.
This negative representation of young people in society has increased levels of fear in communities. Societies now believe that a young person wearing a hooded top is more likely to commit a crime and with young people filling the streets of most areas, nowadays, people have a lot of fear. It is possible that the media representing individuals in this way could actually increase crime rates as young people might feel a need to live up to the expectations of the media. It promotes a negative attitude of young people who may feel if they are already being seen as criminals then they might as well commit the crime.
TV news reports come up with labels such as “mugging” therefore making people believe that it happens on a much wider scale. There are, of course, other representations of crime on the television which could make a person fearful such as reality crime programmes and fictional crime dramas. Reality crime programmes such as Crimewatch can cause people to have more fear of crime because it leads the person to believe that the crimes happen everyday and it is thought that 1 in 3 people will have a higher fear of crime if they watch Crimewatch (Schlesinger ; Tumber, 1993, 1994).
Fictional crime dramas are a cause for concern as they tend to show in great detail how to commit the “perfect” crime and provide all the techniques to get away with it. This could lead a person to believe that more crimes are going to occur because now people have a better knowledge. These programmes can create temptation to commit a crime. How much fear of crime an individual will have due to these programmes and the TV news depends on how much time the individual spends watching TV. It is believed that women and elderly people are the most fearful of crime.
Women could spend more time in the home if they don’t work and if they look after young children and elderly people are more likely to spend time inside due to lack of mobility. It is interesting that they have the most fear as statistically they are the least likely to be a victim of crime and actually young males are the most likely to be victims – especially of violent crime. Well known research into this is the “cultivation analysis” of Gerbner et al. , which is presented in Hales “Criminology”, in the eighth chapter that deals with understanding the connections between crime and the media.
Gerbner, over several decades, carried out survey questionnaires and content analysis to find out the influence of violence of prime-time US television programmes. Gerbner deemed those who watched more than 4 hours of TV a day to be “heavy” television viewers and found that they had a higher fear of crime as television portrays the world as “scary”. There is also a difference between the way stories are reported in newspapers. A tabloid will generally have an over representation of violent crime if compared to broadsheet papers.
In 2003, broadsheet newspaper, The Guardian, published a story titled, “Tabloids ‘stoke’ fear of crime”. In this article official Home Office statistics were quoted and 16% of those who read tabloid papers were “very worried” about being the victim of a mugging compared to just 7% of those who read broadsheet papers. A further 43% of tabloid readers believe that crime had increased “a lot” in the past year compared to just 26% of broadsheet readers. The main reason for this big difference being that more violent crimes are published in tabloid papers such as The Sun and The Daily Mirror.
The tabloids are much more likely to use dramatic headlines and subheadings to gain the attention of the public and the stories are usually exaggerated whereas a broadsheet paper is more likely to just give the facts. For example, The Sun in June 2011 published an article about Levi Bellfield with the headline, “Serial paedo drugged and raped girls in school uniform: Milly Dowler killer Levi Bellfield’s perverted lust” and refer to Bellfield as “a serial child-sex beast” and a “predator”.
This headline makes Bellfield sound extremely threatening This is because The Sun know the public are more likely to buy the newspaper that has the most attention grabbing headline unlike The Guardian, whose headline was, “Levi Bellfield: obsessed with schoolgirls and sexual violence. ” which is less likely to strike fear in the community. Another example would be the “Mods” and “Rockers” in Britain in the 1960s, rival youth gangs. The Mods wearing suits and the Rockers choosing to wear leather jackets and drive motorbikes.
Both gangs were portrayed in the newspapers to be excessively violent and threatening to the public after a brawl broke out but in reality there were very little serious injuries. Although the public hadn’t actually witnessed a violent fight between the two gangs they were frightful of them due to the influence of the media. It is clear that the media does indeed have a huge influence on the public and the way they perceive crime. Using techniques such as dramatised headlines and publicising mostly violent crimes and sexual assaults has made the public more fearful of crime.