Media and Crime
Much of our information about crime comes from the media ( newspapers, television, films etc). This information tells us about local as well as global events. From this position we can see the media plays an important role in our perception and construction of the social world.
Much of this construction about the social world has been regarding the extent of crime in society. Crime stories have tended to dominate media content, with readers assuming a common-sense view that the media merely reports the facts of a ‘common-sense’ process – the police apprehend criminals, the courts punish them and the media reports this process.
In analysing this effect Hall et al (1975) proposed replacing the ‘common-sense’ process with the more complex one below.
However Williams and Dickinson found this process was far more complex. Their research of the national press in June 1989 found that on average 12.7% of news reports were about crime. With tabloid newspapers devoting even more space to crime stories. These figures increased to 60% when news stories reported on cases of personal violence (compared to 5% of all reported crimes reported to the police being cases of personal violence) (Williams and Dickinson 1993, p40)
Ditton and Duffy’s studies also showed how newspapers distort the official picture of crime known to the police (Ditton and Duffy, 1983, p164). For example in Birmingham offences against the person (robbery and assault) accounted for less than 6% of known crimes but occupied 52.7% of the space given to crime stories (Smith, 1984, p290).
Some sociologists argue the media’s search for newsworthiness is a reason crime stories dominate news content. Stephen Box said ’90 per cent of media space devoted to the reportage of crimes, concentrates on serious crimes such as wilful homicide, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary and larceny and crimes currently fanning social hysteria such as trafficking and drug abuse’ (Box, 1981, p39).
Chibnall argues such emphasis is due to popular journalism is built around a particular set of news values which select (specific events to include or omit) in order to present such content in a dramatic way (through selecting certain headline, language and imagery).
Many such headlines and images, particularly with crime reporting, relies heavily on the application of stereotypes. Such processes are clearly evident regarding female criminality. The master status of the female criminal is constructed around hegemonic charateristics of the deviant women as having masculine traits.
Hutter and Williams (1981, p23) argue such stereotypes are built on established gender roles which defines female deviancy as ‘unnatural’ or ‘abnormal’.