The media’s portrayal of crime affects the public perception of crime

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In this essay I will argue that the following statement is true “The media’s portrayal of crime affects the public perception of crime”. The news media provide the main source of information about crime and justice to the public. This news coverage then may be seen to play a major role in the shaping of public opinion about crime, and public attitudes to criminal justice policy. When crime is sensationalised by the media it can contribute to fear of crime, affect public views on the effectiveness of the police, and promote demand for harsher punitive measures. Garofalo (1981) found that media coverage of crime news did in fact increase levels of public pressure for better policing. Surrette’s (1998) research found that media presentations of crime news lead to increased public pressure for heavier penalties for crime.

Pfeiffer et al(2005) found that police statistics of recorded crime in Germany showed that for the ten year period up to 2003 there had been a decline in criminal offences. However studies showed that the German public believed that crime had increased, and that harsher penalties should be imposed. Data indicated that patterns of television viewing, of both factual and fictional crime, were associated with the biased perception of crime. Pfeiffer et al noted that if the media focused on sensational, serious crime, and portrayed an increased upward trend in crime over an extended period of time, then public pressure would mount on policy makers to increase statutory punishment. This in turn may lead to courts handing down tougher sentences, to comply with public perceptions (Pfieffer et al., 2005).Often in media representations about crime a particular group of ‘trouble makers’may be singled out (such as indigenous people, or youth) for special attention (White et al.) This was the case in Germany, where perceived increase in youth violence would be met with tougher penalties for 14-21 year olds (Pfieffer et al., 2005).

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Sensationalised versions of crime have been the mainstay of journalism for many years, often with an emphasis on sex crimes, murders and brutal assaults. Even more pervasive today is the over-abundance of television crime drama series. ( The innovation of crime dramas where the protagonists are forensic scientists, and the plot is driven by the collection of forensic evidence, enjoyed enormous success with audiences in the USA. With series such as Crossing Jordan, NCIS, and Crime Scene Investigation(CSI) achieving great success in the ratings (Cole and Dioso-Villa,2009) In 2002 the media began speaking of the CSI Effect. It was claimed that CSI, one of the most popular programs, was influencing jury decisions and trial outcomes. The suggestion was that ( because of CSI) juries had unrealistically high expectations of the degree and value of forensic evidence available at trial, and that when their expectations of forensic evidence were not met, juries acquitted( Cole and Dioso-Villa, 2009). Members of the justice system have complained that the CSI Effect has had an impact on real life justice, with prosecutors claiming that it has altered the standard of proof (Cole and Dioso-Villa,2009).

Researchers argue that public fear and anxiety is inextricably connected with public pressure for solutions to crime problems. In the German example it can be seen that researchers were able to identify that although crime levels Since the 1980’s a series of moral panics created by media, about supposed law and order issues, have been constructed and utilised as an effective electioneering tool in both the USA and UK (Hall,1980). These moral panics tend to evoke emotional responses from the public, which heightens and captures the interest of newspaper and television consumers (McRobbie and Thornton,1995

Commercial pressures mean that crime features heavily on television entertainment and in television news and newspaper, because crime sells. Crime also receives a disproportionate amount of coverage in newspapers and television broadcasts because serious crimes are seen as being more newsworthy. Violent crime such as murder are over-represented in news cycle (Warr, 2000). Researchers found that although violent types of crime made up only 6% of recorded crimes, 65% of newspaper crime reports involved violent crime, increasing public perceptions of risks of victimisation (Williams and Dickinson,1993). Graber (1980) also found that the overrepresentation of crime in the media increased fear of crime and that the high focus of coverage of murder and assault increased the problem.

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Garofalo (1981) said that fear of crime may lead to avoidance behaviours that may result in risks of victimisation being decreased. Jackson and Gray (2010) also thought that a certain level of fear of crime was desirable as it may inspire people to take measures in minimising their own risk. Brillon (1987) found that large amounts of local crime news produced increased public fear of crime. Liska and Baccaglini (1990) in contrast found that viewing large amounts of non-local crime news has the opposite effect by making the local viewers feel safe in comparison to other areas. Chiricos et al (2000) found that local and national news are related to fear of crime, but that local news of crime produced fear that is stronger for residents in high crime areas and those who experienced victimization. Chiricos also found that amount of viewing of media consumption of news is significantly related to fear. , Liska and Baccaglini (1990) in the US, found that media influence on fear of crime was strongest for women, caucasians and the elderly, which are actually less victimized groups.