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Can crime reporting increase the publics fear of crime?

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Introduction

Can crime reporting increase the publics fear of crime? Firstly, this essay will briefly outline the reasons behind the concerns of crime in our society and the importance of tackling this issue. This essay will then explore the mechanism behind crime reporting and how the media exaggerate and distort facts to produce sensationalised articles causing an increase in the publics fear of crime. Today, perhaps never as vividly before, crime stands at the centre of public consciousness. The mass media serve up a regular diet of stories of rising crime, vulnerable victims and callous offenders. The public persistently voice their fears and anxieties about crime in opinion surveys and in official government studies prioritising their concern with the issue. The success of the police in dealing with the crime problem in general comes under ever more scrutiny, and the effectiveness and rigour of the criminal justice and penal systems generate never-ending controversy. It is clear that crime constitutes a major realm of societal concern (Bilton et al, 1996). The most important factor in determining what is in the news has become known as 'agenda setting'. The media effectively determine which issues become the focus of attention and have the power to make one issue dominate public debate and concern. This is particularly significant in relation to criminal activity as the media are generally the publics main source of information. ...read more.

Middle

p6). This quote had been included deliberately from a figure of high social status because it was less likely to be disputed and therefore reinforce the publics fear that deviant behaviour was out of control. Cohen argues that the press tend to take the same view as the police, magistrates and parents when there is seen to be a threat from gangs of youths. They overdramatise events and amplify peoples fears (Townroe & Yates, 1995). A further aspect of crime reporting is 'victim blaming' which occurs when the media consider that the victim has broken a social norm which has resulted in them being victimised. This is often evident in rape cases where the focus is on the victims past sexual history and descriptions of revealing clothing rather than the rape itself, apportioning some of the blame onto the victim and to some extent excuses the attacker. For example, after a widely reported gang rape in Brixton, where two teenage girls were raped at knifepoint through the night by a gang of six youths after trying to return home from a pop concert, the Detective Inspector in charge was quoted as saying: "It was not wise for these girls to be out so late" (The Gaurdian (1992) pg16). By selecting comments made by 'authoritative officials' the implications that females should not venture out at night is an ideology that is reinforced and even supported by the media where its norm setting function is apparent. ...read more.

Conclusion

This constant exposure to crime reporting can further reinforce the public's fear of crime. In conclusion, evidence presented in this essay indicates that crime reporting can increase the public's fear of crime. The mass media have clearly become a very influential part of our society. Virtually every household has a TV and over 20 million people read a daily paper so we are constantly exposed to what the media provide. With this in mind, for many people the mass media is their main source of information about criminal activity. Researchers have claimed that throughout the mass media crime, particularly serious crime is severely over-represented and this portrays a distorted image of the frequency of crime. This then increases the fear of crime among the public. The use of emotive language such as 'viciously attacked' and 'brutally raped' have a powerful impact on the reader and lead us in a particular way. Reports are often biased giving only one side of the argument manipulating the reader - the media control how we perceive the crime. It must be acknowledged that a casual link between fear and crime isn't clear because the public are subjected to various other crime related sources of influence and importance such as friends and family. However, recent studies suggest that news is not simply dictated to and absorbed unquestioningly by passive receivers. People can do and make use of the media for their own purposes and are capable of resisting and opposing media messages. ...read more.

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