Crime and Deviance

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Outline and assess the potential effects of the way that the crime problem is presented in newspapers and one of the following further areas:

  1. Television/Cinema
  2. Video Games

Crime is an everyday occurrence, with approximately 8.5 million crimes occurring in England and Wales in 2012-2013 alone, so therefore stories about crime are inevitable. These stories are not only printed in newspapers but are also shown on television, aired on radio stations and reported worldwide across the internet. The public can only rely on these publicised stories for information, but this information may not always be correct. There is no denying that the role of the media in modern life is indispensible, providing information, education, entertainment, advertisement and much more, but to what cost? What positive or negative effects does the media representation on crime have? Do the media reports and style of reporting have an effect on the public? For example do certain stories increase the risk of violence in certain areas or would those problems still be there without the media reports? All of these forms of media have been studied excessively to attempt to understand the impact, if any, upon society and I will be assessing the potential effects of crime presentation within newspapers and on television.

For many of the population most of the knowledge about crime comes from newspapers. They are a primary source of information and understanding of crime issues. If there has been a murder or major accident more often than not there will be reports in the newspapers. Also if this is an on-going event the reports may continue on a daily basis until a conclusion is reached. There are many different newspapers and they will each chose their own view on the event being reported and it will be presented with that view in mind. There are strengths to reporting crime within newspapers. The first being that almost everybody will see a newspaper at some point during their day, or even walk pas a shop advertising the headlines. Because of this it means that all of that particular society will perceive the same story, the same threat and quite possibly the same view on the immoral behaviour. Another strength of newspaper reporting is that it is generally less expensive than televisions and internet, which mostly require some form of subscription fee in order to use. The last biggest strength to newspapers is that in comparison with the internet most newspaper articles have been researched a little more thoroughly and tend to have more accuracy in the article (Ask Jeeves, n.d). There are several other strengths to newspaper reporting including; geographic selectivity, wide range of material aimed at a broad audience, ability and ease in which to pass an article of interest around and its movability (Media Miser, n.d).

However, there are also many weaknesses with newspaper reporting and the presentation of crime. The biggest weakness is the concern that the types of crime reported in newspapers, and the way in which this crime is presented, provides a distorted view of crime and hides the true nature of the crime problem (Fields & Jerrin, 1996: Windschuttle, 1998 cited in Sanson, A. et al., 2013). It has been suggested that this distorted view on the crime problem increases fear within the public (Bernard, 1992, cited in Chan & Chan, 2012). Newspapers use headlines that will catch a person’s eye, with a statement that will interest a person. It is the statement made within these headlines that creates fear and panic about crime. These headlines are designed to illustrate an episode, condition, person or group of people that are defined as a threat to society. Stanley Cohen (1972) termed this ‘The Moral Panic’ (Cohen, 1972, cited in sands, 1998). A moral panic can take one of two courses, either it dies out quickly or it can have more serious implications such as creating new legislation (Sands, 1998). When the public react to what they perceive as a threat it can lead to new laws being created, for example the change in law regarding knife crime which saw the sentencing for knife crimes increased in 2010 (Knife Crimes.Org, n.d). Reiner (n.d) suggested that the moral panics created by the presentation of crime within newspapers were a way of social control by cultivating fears about criminality (Reiner, n.d). However this can also lead to the ostracising of a certain group of people due to negative stereotypes and drastic measures being taken too soon. Along a similar line to that of creating moral panics, newspapers also have an effect on the way people vote, the opinions they make on events and it can also encourage certain buying trends. Another major weakness to newspaper reporting is that it cannot communicate events in real-time. As a newspaper article has to be written and printed before being able to be sold so on occasion the information a person reads in their morning paper could be anything up to 24 hours out of date (Ask Jeeves, n.d). Newspapers could also be biased, depending on the corporation or group of owners, leaning the reports towards their own or their employer’s opinions. This is then providing the public with only limited information on the real crime problem. Also with a newspaper report it cannot convey sound, from an interview for example.

In principal the media coverage of crime within newspapers will also be reflected upon television. Although there are some strengths as well as weaknesses with this type of reporting. One strength is it can reach a larger audience. A lot of people sit down with their evening meal and watch the news, local or national. Another strength in contrast to newspapers where there are a lot of messages trying to stand out, a television broadcast will focus on one story at a time, for example a house fire has killed 2 people the television broadcast will set aside a block of time in which to tell the public all the details in regards to that story. With a television broadcast there is also the benefit of sound and more in depth visual information. For example some television reports will show images of the crime scene or of the damage caused as well as interviews with witnesses or police officers providing a more sensory understanding of the situation (Media Miser, n.d). However, there are also weaknesses to this kind of reporting. The first weakness would be that it has been shown in studies that the amount of news coverage has no real correlation in relation to the actual volume of crime being reported (Skogan & Maxfield, 1981, cited in Sanson, A. et al, 2013). In actual reality most official crime statistics state that most crime committed is non-violent, yet the media reporting in certain instances would suggest otherwise (Garofalo, 1981, cited in Sanson, A. et al, 2013). This would correlate with the moral panics theories suggesting the media over-represent or over-exaggerate crime and especially crimes of a violent nature, thus upping the risk to society and making people react in unnatural ways (Sanson, a. et al, 2013). Another weakness of television news is the limited time slot for each story; this implies that the television stations are choosing what information to give the public within that time slot. The question to this would be who decides what the public need to be told; again this is only providing the public with limited information and quite possibly a distorted view of the situation. The last biggest weakness is again the possibility of the reports being biased and only providing limited personal opinions which could not be in the best interest of the public.

From the studies I have shown it is clear to say that although these types of reporting on crime are useful in the information they provide, they are also bias, unreliable and overall forms of control over society. The newspaper and television companies are also generally under the control of the government as well meaning that the reports they are trying to presents could be restricted. This could be due to public safety and in these cases would be acceptable, but this could also be due to the government concealing information and ensuring the newspapers and television stations follow suit. In my personal opinion neither of these types of broadcasting is reliable and in fact the whole process of how crime is reported needs to be reconsidered.


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