How the Media Simplifies Crime

This should be a useful update for students studying both the Crime and Deviance and Media options as part of A-level sociology.

This 2019 blog post from the John Howard Society of Canada is useful here:

The media simplify the coverage of crime in the following ways:

  • Media coverage tends to focus on the individual criminals, and their psychological state, with very little focus on the social context which led to a crime being committed (so very little sociological analysis in the mainstream media!)
  • Crime stories quote the police and victims and their families, but rarely experts in the field – nice link to the news value of ‘personalisation’ here.
  • Coverage is usually ‘emotional’ and often ‘angry’ with little objective analysis of the actual risk of the wider public also falling a victim of the crime featured. As a result, the media spreads an unrealistic fear of crime.
  • Coverage of crime is often associated with only one policy option – harsher punishments for offenders – there is very little discussion of alternatives to punishment, despite the fact that a lot of evidence points to the fact that harsher punishments are not the most effective means of controlling crime.

You can find several examples of this simplification of the crime narrative in the BBC News and crime-focussed documentaries (even though the later are supposed to have more depth and breadth)

  • Documentaries typically take the side of the police – following them around, or having them in as experts in the studio – Crimewatch even encourages the public to phone in and help the police
  • The underlying causes of crime are rarely looked at in the news or crime documentaries – as we will see next term factors such as family breakdown, poverty, child abuse mean that many criminals are themselves victims of an unequal society and a harsh upbringing, but this is rarely considered.
  • You rarely hear from the criminals – they tend to be talked about by experts. One obvious example of this is the issue surrounding the war on terror – have you ever heard the Islamists point of view in the mainstream media? The west has been engaged in a ‘war against Al Queda’ for a decade now – wouldn’t it maybe help our understanding of this war if the BBC had made some attempt to let a radical Islamist at least explain why they think terrorism is legitimate? Maybe just once in the last decade?
  • Where political protest happens, the media tend to focus on the violence done by a fringe minority rather than the issues that are being protested about – focussing on violent clashes between police and demonstrators (if there are any) rather than on the issues and speeches that went on during those demonstrations.

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