Image Of Crime Disseminated By The Media Criminology Essay

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To explore how audiences interpreted the image of crime in the South African media, we conducted a series of interviews as well as we administrated questionnaires to our sample. Our sample derived from first year students in criminology at the University of Kwazulu Natal. In the total of 40 participants; we chose 10 Africans, 10 coloureds, 10 Indians as well as 10 whites. The reason why we put all race group in the sample it is because we want to have a balanced idea on how different race in South Africa think about how the media represent crime.

The content analysis of answers from people who participated as sample in the research was to understand major discourse in the representation of crime in the South African media from different views. Specifically our analysis used the constant comparative method amongst different races. We analyzed the data through a detailed understanding of our research objectives.

Although we agree that image of crime disseminated by the media are strikingly consistent, we must urge caution in generalizing our findings to other places in South Africa. Because our analysis is restricted only to a group of first year students at the University of Kwazulu Natal. We cannot assume that our findings would be replicated in other areas. Moreover, we have no data with which to access the generalizability of our results to other places in South Africa.


We have collected a volume of data about content of media representations of image of crime in South Africa. We are only able to present a selection of our main findings here related to the objective of our research.

The first section of the questionnaire referred to the background or biographical information of participants. This information helps us to compare racial groups understanding regarding the representation of crime in the South African media. Based on racial group, we discover that there is some differences on the way Africans, coloureds, Indians and whites understand the representation of the image of crime in the media.

For the understanding about which form of the media my sample use to keep up-to date with current affairs and be informed about current or past issues on crime:

80% of Africans use television as the first source of information, 90% use radio as source of updating with news, 30% use internet and also 10% use news papers.


90% of coloured use television as source of information, 40% of them use radio, 40% use internet and 20% use news papers as source to keep up to date with current affairs.


100% of Indians use television like the first source of information, 80% of them use radio as source of updating them about current affairs, and 30% of them rely on internet and news paper.


100% of whites use television as source of information, 70% of them use radio as source of information, 95% use internet as form of media to keep them update with information and 80% use news papers.


The result indicate that television seems to be the main plate form that keep updating people regarding the issue of crime in South Africa, following by radio, internet and News Paper.

By analyzing the representation of crime in South African media, 85% of participant agree that South African media exaggerate the way it represent crime , 10% of participant disagree and 5% of them are neutral.

The result shows that media do not give an accurate representation of crime. It overstates crime coverage. And this affect people attitude or concern toward crime problem in South Africa. 90% of participants agree that their attitudes towards crime are affected by the way media exaggerate the representation of crime, 7% of participants are neutral and only 3% disagree. This findings indicate that the way the media represent crime create fear in the population. The majority of respondents are more likely to be fearful of crime based on the way the media represent it.

Regarding which kind of crimes are most reported in the South African media, the results indicate that 75% of crimes reported are violent crimes (murder, rape, assault,…) and only 25% are non violent crime such as corruption and fraud.

According to the participants, the media put more attention to violent crime in South Africa because that kind of crime happens often in the daily life of citizen. And also because of the country has the reputation as a violent crime capital of the world. Violent crimes are easy for media reporters to have access to information compare to non violent crime such as white color crime or fraud.

Regarding the representation of crime in the new Democratic South Africa; the majority of participants, 87% of them, argue that today`s media are more interesting in reporting crime more than it was during the apartheid period. 10% of them disagree and only 3% gave a neutral position. During the interview one of participant argue that one of the big reasons why the media focus more on reporting crime today is because of the freedom of press that the new South African constitution grant to the media. During apartheid area, media were controlled by the state and it was difficult for it to report any news. Participants went further by declaring that South African media represent a certain racial group as more potential criminals then other. Africans are represented more criminals in the media more than other races, following by couloureds people, Indians and whites population:

At the same time, our research shows that some media represent black people as more victims of crime in South Africa, following by Whites, couloureds and Indians. According to participants, black South Africans are much more likely to be victims of crime because most of them are not able to afford the protections and security measures and also the majority of black South Africans live in the areas where there are high levels of criminal activities.

On the question referring on if crime stories are told in a balanced way with all points of view represented, the majority of respondents indicate that crime stories are not told in a balance way. 82% of respondents argue that when the media cover a crime for example committed by a black person to a white person or vice versa, the media always exaggerated by reporting such crime. However if the same crime involves two people of the same race, the media coverage does not lay it on thick by exposing it.


This study reveals that regular viewers of crime shows are more likely to fear crime.

Although statistically significant, the strength of this finding is minimal. In addition, there are a

few limitations with regard to the measures of media consumption. First, the type of crime show

that the respondent is viewing is unknown. There are numerous types of crime shows that may

focus on different aspects of the criminal justice system. For example, crime shows may focus on

police, courts, private investigators, defense lawyers and sometimes even the criminals. In

addition, some shows are more realistic, while others routinely portray violence, and consistently

misinform viewers about the nature of the criminal justice system and criminality. It would be

prudent to know which dramas the respondents are viewing. Second, employing television hours

watched is problematic, since there is no way of determining what type of programs the

respondent is viewing. There are a number of different programs that may or may not address

criminal justice issues and address them in substantially different ways. Finally, examining

newspapers as the primary source of crime news suggests that only newspapers influence

respondents. It would be naive to suggest that respondents are not affected by a number of

sources; for example, respondents who receive their primary crime news from newspapers may

also be affected by presentations of crime from other sources such as films, television and/or

personal experiences.

Fear of Crime

Despite these limitations, there are some interesting results regarding fear of crime and

perceived police effectiveness. Even when controlling for a number of factors, viewing crime

shows is weakly related to fear of crime. Fear of crime may be "natural" reactions to the

violence, brutality, and "injustice" that are broadcast to living rooms on a daily basis. Crimes on

television shows and films reveal several trends. There is an overemphasis on crimes of violence

and offenders are often portrayed in stereotypical ways. For example, murder and robbery

dominate while property crimes are rarely presented (Surette, 1998). Offenders are often viewed

as psychopaths that prey on weak and vulnerable victims. In other cases offenders are portrayed

as businessmen or professionals that are shrewd, ruthless, and violent. Television crime is

exciting and a rewarding endeavor, whereas victims are passive, helpless and vulnerable

(Surette, 1998).

Many viewers may not understand the justice process and are unlikely to understand

motivations and causes of criminal behavior. The criminal justice system is portrayed as largely

ineffective, with the exception of a few "heroes" that provide justice or in some cases vengeance

towards offenders (Surette, 1998). Crime shows rarely focus on mitigating issues of criminal

behavior and are unlikely to portray offenders in a sympathetic or even realistic fashion. On

television, crime is freely chosen and based on individual problems of the offender. Analysis of

crime dramas reveal that greed, revenge and mental illness are the basic motivations for crime

and offenders are often portrayed as "different" from the general population (Lichter and Lichter,

1983; Maguire, 1988) Thus, viewers may believe that all offenders are "monsters" to be feared.

Consequently, heavy viewers may perceive crime as threatening, offenders as violent, brutal or

ruthless and victims as helpless. These inaccurate presentations, as well as the portrayal of crime

as inevitable/non-preventable may lead to an increase in the fear of crime. Nevertheless, the

relationship between fear of crime and crime show viewing is statistically weak. As a result, it is

important for future research to examine the relationship by employing triangulated strategies

such as content analysis, experimental and survey research designs.

Police Effectiveness

The results indicate that perception of police effectiveness is not related to media

consumption. However, African-Americans and respondents who report a high number of

problems in their neighborhood are more likely to give negative evaluations of police

effectiveness. Therefore, direct experience may influence the respondents' attitudes toward

crime problems and police response in the neighborhood. Future research should examine how

the media influences these attitudes. The media may produce "feelings" that local neighborhoods

are "problem filled" or dangerous. For instance, local news broadcasts may focus on highly

sensational, violent and disturbing crime that occurs in the neighborhood. It may be possible that

media presentation will affect attitudes toward the neighborhood.

In this sample, African-Americans are more likely to give poor ratings of police

effectiveness. However, it is unclear as to why or how African-Americans gain these views. It is

generally assumed that these views are the result of discrimination. Direct experience aside, the

mass media may play a role in African-American attitudes toward police effectiveness. Future

studies should examine how the media portrayal of the criminal justice system affects African American attitudes toward police. The media may have a strong effect on African-American

criminal justice attitudes.

In conclusion, it is speculated that the majority of the public's knowledge about crime

and justice is formed through media consumption. As a result, it is imperative that we understand

how the media influences public attitudes. Although there are limitations within the data set and

the findings are weak, regular viewing of crime shows is related to fear of crime. However,

crime show viewing is not related to punitive attitudes or perceived police effectiveness, while

hours of television viewing and source of crime news are not related to fear of crime, punitive

attitudes or perceived police effectiveness. Nevertheless, more research is required to determine

the relationship between media consumption and attitudes toward crime and justice.