Influence of the Media on Criminal Behaviour and Punishment in the UK

2530 words (10 pages) Essay in Criminology

08/02/20 Criminology Reference this

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To what extent does the media in the UK influence criminal behaviour and criminal punishment?  What are the risks of having a media that has too little, or too great, an influence on criminal behaviour?

“Technology changes everything, crime included” (Helfgott, 2015). Media plays a major role in our daily life (Mehraj, et al., 2014). However, today media comes in different shapes and forms and according to Hates and Luther (2018), media can be divided into two types: legacy and new media. Both types of the media have the same roles: to carry out news about the crimes, provide information about the crimes and influence the people in which we see the society in where we live (Newburn. 2017). However, the role of the media has been heavily researching topic (Boda and Szabo, 2011). It is important to examine the role of media which plays a big part in our life by shaping and formatting behaviour (Helfgott, 2015). The first paragraph is going to talk about media in general, what are media and the impact of Marx and other researchers. This will be seen through analysing scientific literature. The second paragraph is going to be about the media and criminal behaviour correlation, this link is going to be shown through scientific literature by various authors who agree with this view with different theories. The last paragraph will discuss media influence on criminal punishment, how can media influence the law and make people feel not safety.

Firstly, the correlation between the media and crime has been an issue since the early 20th century when people raise awareness of violence in comics, radio, and films (Murray, 2008). We should also consider that in early 1908, the worry of media (newspapers) was creating an environment for criminality and causing adolescence delinquency to appear (Surette, 1997). Currently, the media is much more than that. Today media is the voice of our society (Singh and Pandey, 2017). In the media, an average of 25 percent of UK television programmes and around 20 percent of films are related to crime (Greer, 2013). According to the latest research, an average person in a worldwide spends on media approximately 463 minutes which is over 7 hours a day in 2018 (Statista, 2019). According to Birmingham (2016), the media can be split into two parts. One of them is legacy media. Legacy media is considering to be as a print media (newspaper, novels, pamphlets), visual media (television, movies) and sound media (radio). Another new media includes technology which is becoming more popular. New media is considering to be the internet, social media, video games, and smartphones (Hayes and Luther, 2018). Another thing to mention is Merton’s, Durkheim’s and Marxism impact of changing the view between crime and media (Falodun, 2015). Robert Merton’s strain theory and Emile Durheim’s anomie theory focus more on person’s behaviour when they experience negative emotions, they try coping with antisocial behaviour which results in a high rate of crimes (Teymoore, 2016). Marxism tells us that the media are owned by the upper class and they use media for their own good (Jewkes, 2015). Gramsci developed Marx’s theory to the concept of hegemony, the purpose of hegemony is to explain the media’s impact on society (Jewkes, 2015). Hegemony according to Gramsci is center on the ruling class which retains their power on the lower class. Through media, they control people by changing their values (Dhakal, 2011). To sum up, the media compared to 100 year-ago changed drastically. With modern technology, the media became widely used all around the world and have more sources to inform people what is happening in the world. With different theories of crime and media relationship is perceived as a major problem over the years. Media’s effect is still controversial because the effect is not undetermined.

Secondly, it is still a controversial issue that media’s coverage of crime-related news, shows, films have an effect on people by shaping their believes, views and behaviour (Turvey, 2012). There are several theories which explain the media’s influence on criminal behaviour. One of them is the mass media effect (Jewkes, 2015). Mass media effect is a part of cultivation theory. Cultivation theory was introduced by George Gerbner with his team in, they explained that television has the power to shape a person’s vision of the world around him/her (Alitavoli and Kaveh, 2018). Mass media according to Jawkes (2015) is “powerful force for controlling people’s though”. She also stated that mass media is strongly linked by behaviourism. Behaviourism is a psychological theory which suggests that people learn behaviour through interaction with the environment (Heidt, 2011). Based on Cultivation theory, people with high exposure to media have tendency by receiving a higher amount of information from television, their views and beliefs might change (Alitavoli and Kaveh, 2018). Studies have shown violence viewing and aggressive behaviour are related (Murray, 2008). In 1978 Belson conduct experiment in London to establish 1600 teenage boys exposure between violent media and behaviour. The result of collected data shown that boys who read violent comic books, watched violent crime shows were more engaged to criminal activities, such as fighting, beating a dog, throwing bricks (Kirsh, 2012). Another theory can be explained by behaviourism is the General Aggression Model (GAM). GAM explains that exposure to media coverage of violent content is one of the factors that cause a person’s aggression which can lead to criminal activities (Rios, 2018). One of the examples can be Bandura, Ross and Ross researches. They exposed to young people various short clips of adults beating up an inflatable Bobo doll or similar but non-violent films. The conclusion, of the experiment, was that children who watched the film where the doll was beating up tend to use violence more than children who watched the non-violent film (Surette, 1997). Also, according to Rios (2018), there is evidence that after media covers crimes related to fire setting or terrorist groups it increases more attacks. One of the best phenomena to show behaviourism is a copycat crime. According to Jacqueline Helfgott, copycat crime is also a problem in this society. She defined a copycat definition as a “crime that is inspired by another crime” (Phillips, 2017). However, copycat crime was introduced in the early 20th century after criminologist found the link between media and murders believed to have been committed by “Jack the Ripper” in London (Nedim and Holmes, 2018). The copycat phenomenon is influential, for example, in 2003 eighteen years old Devin Moore was arrested for suspicion of car theft in The United States of America. When he was brought to the police station, he grabbed a gun from one of the police officers and shot him twice, and then he shot and killed another officer and emergency dispatcher. After the shootings, he grabbed police car keys and drove off. Shortly he was captured and later stated that prior to the murders he was playing the video game “Grand Theft Auto” for hours (Helfgott, 2015). All in all, there are many theories explaining to us why people are committing crimes because of the influence of the media. Due to continues exposition of crime media, people’s behaviour usually tends to be criminal. Although, media has an impact on a person but not always media can be negative toward a person or society. We should keep in mind that media is not only just a negative aspect of the criminal justice system. Sometimes using media can help us to solve the crimes and change law for the greater good.

Lastly, media coverage can be influential. The risk of the negative side of media violence can operate on physical and moral values (Hill, 2011). The physical effect can be seen as copycat crimes or cultivation theory which where was talking previously. The moral values of media are more related to moral and ethical problems in family, law, and order, safety (Hill, 2011). This moral value can be seen in James Burger and Dunblane massacre cases. In 1993, 2 years old James Bulger was killed by two 10 years old boys in Liverpool. It was later found out, that the killing was influenced by the horror movie Child’s Play 3 (Roberts, 2014). The pre-trial media coverage was so extensive that counsel for the boys argued that the jury and witnesses could have been prejudiced rendering the trial unfair (Unicef, 2010). In the trial, media reported not only the evidence which was presented in the court but also profiling reaction of boys when they heard details and evidence given in court. The final verdict of the case was, the two boys were convicted of murder and served eight years in Secure Accommodation (Hill, 2011). The day after the verdict, 25 November 1993, one of the tabloids had a headline with “How do you feel now you little bastards?” (Sekaram, 2013). The media felt confident enough of the public’s mood to expose the killers to an excessive degree and demand that they ‘rot in jail’, without fear of being criticised (High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2002). The media felt justified in presenting the killers as evil, not just because of the brutality of the murder, but also because the trial judge had described the murder as “an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity”, and the conduct of the boys as “both cunning and very wicked” (Hill, 2011). The trial took the place in Merseyside, however, before the boys were arrested, a 12-year-old boy was taken in for questioning. Local people were not amused and assumed that the boy was the culprit, so they attacked the boy’s home and drive the family out. The boy was released without the charge. However, after it was found out that the real criminals were 10 years old, the people became mad. Angry crowd drove both boy’s families out of their houses, and they had to move out to new houses for their own safety. When the boys were driven to the court, the people started to thrown stones and banged on the sides of the vans (Hill, 2011). After the case was finished, the Government decided to change juvenile justice legislation. The major change was section 34, the abolition of the rebuttable presumption that the children aged 10-14 are doli incapax (incapable of committing an offence) (Piper, 2003). Overall, the Bulger case shows how one case can change the justice system and the public’s opinion.  The case shows the influence of media coverage which made an impact on the Government to listen to the public voice for changing the law.

To summarise, in this century media plays a huge role in our life by shaping our mindset, behaviour, view. However, due to large daily usage and easy access, it is hard to control a person’s tendency in criminal activities. This issue is relevant due to growing advanced technology and crime rates. Since the early 20th century, researchers found a pattern which linked crime and media together. Various researchers suggested different theories which they explained criminal behaviours. However, exposing crimes in media sometimes has a negative side but where are also a good side of this. Due to the media’s influence, criminals not also are punished by law but also by people.


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