A considerable amount of literature consistently argues that the way crime is portrayed in the media significantly differs from what official records and research tell us, that is to say, that the media is said to misrepresent the crime problem. Five main arguments are presented demonstrating that the media distorts the crime problem. First, the media tend to report on crimes that are considered `newsworthy.’ Second, it is argued that the media’s role is that of an agenda-setter. Third, media reporting on crime is supportive of law enforcement agencies but is negative towards courts. Fourth, the media reports on crime that escalates public anxiety to such an extent that it can lead to moral panic about particular crimes. Fifth, stereotypes of both victims and offenders dominate media representations of crime. It is believed that the media is the public’s primary source of knowledge about crime and it has exploited this by inaccurately presenting the nature of crime to our society.
The first argument supporting that the media distorts the crime problem is that the reporting of crime is selective and the types of crimes reported in the media are those deemed `newsworthy.’ Media compete in a marketplace to attract as large an audience as possible as they are profit orientated organisations. Consequently, crimes are selectively reported and are generally reported in ways that conform to news values of the immediate, the novel, the dramatic, and so on, which reinforce already established images of threat from crime. The assumption that the volume of crime is high and rising is one of the main arguments advanced by society.
In Australia, studies have shown that a substantial proportion of the population incorrectly believe that crime rates are increasing when, in fact, they are stable or declining (Indermaur D & Roberts L, 2005). The discrepancy between the crime rate and the public’s perceived crime rate has been commonly attributed to the expansive media coverage of crime, especially violent and more sensationalised crime (Duffy B, 2008). The media is the primary source of indirect knowledge of the crime problem and by selectively presenting crime to society in a dramatised and sensationalized manner; it has lead to the myth that the volume of crime is high and rising.
The second line of reasoning is that some contend that the media’s construction of crime is more than just selective, it is that of an agenda-setter (Surette R, 1996). As an agenda-setter, the media defines the problem of crime in a way that sets parameters of discussion and debate. The impact of agenda-setting is that only some types of crime are brought to the public’s attention and in the same way, only some kinds of criminal justice responses are presented as solutions to control crime. Research has found that the media reports the nature of crime in a way that brings crime and its control to the foremost issue of policy-makers’ assessing imperative social problems (Teece M & Makkai T, 2000).
The assumption that sentences are too lenient is one of the main arguments advanced by society and a perfect example of the media pushing its own agenda. The public depend on the media almost exclusively for their information about sentencing and recent data from the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes show that 70% of respondents agreed that `people who break the law should be given stiffer sentences’ (Indermaur & Roberts, 2005). However, most criminal matters proceeding to court are finalised at the Magistrates Court, i.e. without a jury. With this in mind, it shows that the media have a great impact on setting the public agenda and initiating discussion and debate by inaccurately presenting the crime problem.
The third argument correspondingly elucidates that the media’s reporting on crime is often deceptively supportive of police or law enforcement agencies but is negative towards courts. This is due to the media depending largely on limited, easily accessible sources – often authorities such as police, and therefore presents a one-sided picture (Teece M & Makkai T, 2000). Police are privileged sources to the media and therefore the police-media relationship is mutually rewarding as it generates an effective and successful image for the police, as well as providing information to the media about crime. This substantiates the grounds of the support devoted to law enforcement agencies by the media. Furthermore, as previously verified, the fact that the media pushes its own agenda and as a result the public view in regard to sentencing is that sentencing is too lenient evidences the fact that the media discourage the courts. In this way, the media distorts the nature of crime presented to our society and leads society to obtain high confidence in services provided by police and minimal support towards courts.
The fourth argument is that violent crimes that induce feelings of anger and panic in the public are generally the only types of crime that the media present to us and are reported in such a way that they seem the most common types of crime committed in society. Public anxiety about crime can be escalated to such an extent that it can lead to a moral panic about a particular crime, specifically violent crime. The assumption that a large proportion of crimes involve violence is one of the main arguments advanced by society. However, research consistently finds that in western countries the media over-reports violent crimes, especially murder, sexual-assault and assault (Hayes H & Prenzler T, 2009).
A study of public perceptions in Australia by Indermaur (2005) found that three in four people overestimated by a large margin the proportion of crimes involving violence. In fact, violent crime statewide declined 6 per cent in 2004 to continue a downward trend that began in the early 1990’s (Bavis B & Dossetor L, 2010). The media has presented the nature of crime in our society exceedingly inaccurately to the point that it has led our society to deem that most crimes involve violence.
The fifth line of reasoning is that the media’s representation of crime, predominantly violent and sexual offences, is _stranger danger._ This depicts that victims are selected at random by offenders they do not know. The media constructs images of risk and these images lie in line with conceptions of _stranger danger_ rather than _fear of the near_. The assumption that offenders do not know their victims is one of the main arguments advanced by society. Contrary to popularised media reporting, research evidence shows that most victims are not victimised by strangers (Tiby E, 2009). In fact, females are more likely to become the victims of violence from someone they know, e.g. a partner or family member (Hayes H & Prenzler T, 2009). Accordingly, the media’s inaccurate representation of _stranger danger_ has distorted the nature of crime presented to our society, leading to the myth that offenders usually do not know their victims.
The nature of crime in our society is not accurately presented by the media. The evidence is clear that the media is society’s primary source of knowledge about crime and has outlined some key elements about the influence of media reporting that shapes how society accept, relate and react to the nature of crime. Most media are businesses operating for profit and therefore they compete in a marketplace to attract as large an audience as possible, therefore the media report on crimes that are deemed `newsworthy,’ conforming to news values. Its role is that of an agenda-setter and in this way deceivingly supports law enforcement agencies and criticises courts. Media has the capacity to escalate public fear of crime by selectively focusing on a particular crime as more prevalent and stereotyping both victims and offenders. For these reasons, it is evident that the nature of crime in our society is not accurately presented by the media as it has lead society to believe various myths.
Bavis, B & Dossetor, L. (2010). Misperceptions of crime in Australia. _Trend and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice (396)._ Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/fullText;dn=20103330;res=AGISPT
Duffy, B. Wake, R. Burrows, T. Bremner, P. (2008). Closing the gaps-crime and public perceptions. _International Review of Law, Computers &_ _Technology
Vol._ _22_: 17-44. London: UK. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=19b4d519-d160-4062-a7d9-20ea3ba483ee%40sessionmgr13&vid=6&hid=106
Hayes, H. Prenzler, T. (2009). _Introduction to crime and criminology 2__nd_ _ed._ Australia: Pearson Australia Group.
Indermaur, D. & Roberts, L. (2005), `Perception of Crime and Justice,’ in _Australian Social Attitudes,_ UNSW Press, Sydney.
Surette, R. (1996). `News from Nowhere, Policy to Follow: Media and the Social Construction of Three Strikes and You’re Out.’ _Three Strikes and_ _You’re Out: Vengeance as Public Policy_, Thousand Oaks.
Teece, M. & Makkai, T. (2000). Print Media Reporting on Drugs and Crime, 1995 – 1998. _Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice (158)_. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/fullText;dn=20010687;res=AGISPT
Tiby, E. (2009). Stranger-Danger or Fear of the Near? Accounts on Fear of Sexual Abuse. _Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention_. Retrieved from http://pdfserve.informaworld.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/999873_751313171_917284778.pdf
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