In this essay I will answer to what extent the press and media influence and shape public perceptions on crime. I intend to approach this by justifying reasons of how they do this with the use of relevant examples.
To an extent the press and media can influence and shape public perceptions on crime as “moral panics” (Cohen, 1960) have been made more prevalent by the media. This is because as Cohen analysed the media, they use three headings with the creation of moral panic, Exaggeration, Prediction and Symbolism. Leading to a societal reaction, particularly where the behaviour of the story is perceived to challenge the social order. (Newburn, 2017) Therefore, a “deviancy amplification spiral” (Wilkins, 1964) will occur in which a negative social reaction to certain forms of behaviour reinforces, rather than undermines the “deviant” activities concerned (Newburn, 2017) An argument was created by Cohen (1972) and Chibnall (1977) that the media plays a critical role in defining for the population significant events that take place, but also gives interpretations of how to understand these events. (Hall et al, 1978) Allowing for the media to influence and shape public perceptions on crime because they are presenting an image to the public of the crimes taking place and how they are dealt with. Leading to them being exaggerated, so creating a false understanding for the audience of the events that have taken place. Which results in a moral panic. One example of this would be the mods and rockers panic in the 1960s, Cohens interactionist analysis found the media exaggerated and distorted the newspaper covers of “The battle of Brighton” which caused a rapid build-up of public concern. Leading to increased police surveillance and arrests, however with this came more clashes with more public concern. The youths then with all the publicity created a self-fulfilling prophecy of being deviant and separate from mainstream society, this group of sexually and economically liberated individuals affronted the post-War values of hard work, sobriety and deferred gratification. (Alison Liebling, Shadd Maruna and Lesley Mcara, 2017) However, the media doesn’t influence and shape public perceptions on crime because moral panics are so frequent that they have little impact on the audience. (McRobbie and Thorton, 1995) An example of this would be the media reporting on the Ebola virus, after the 2014 epidemic many people now choose to ignore the reoccurring headlines as they are aware that healthcare can be provided for it. This suggests that Cohens concept on moral panics is outdated and no longer useful. This is because new technology and different forms of media have changed the public’s reaction to events which caused a moral panic in the past. Leading to people being sceptical of stories and because the news is reported 24/7 it has a short life. Therefore, people are less likely to believe the headlines, so they are unlikely to be newsworthy for long enough to generate a moral panic.
Similarly, the press and media influence and shape public perceptions on crime because it is reported in an unbalanced way. There is a strong emphasis on violent and unusual crimes resulting in the public receiving only a distorted impression. (Newburn, 2017) Research in Scotland found that 46% of all crime news concerned violent and sexual crime, whereas such crimes made up less than 3% of police recorded crime (Ditton and Duffy, 1983). An example of this is a study of rape reports that shows the examination of rape coverage over time has left the narrow News of the World audience and entered popular dallies on a large scale. (Soothill and Walby, 1991) Sex crimes are highly selected Soothill and Walbys suggests the media constantly seeks to identify the existence of a “sex beast” by using selective portrayal of specific facts. They argue this by promoting the sense that there are links between sex offences. An example of this is quoting examples of newspaper coverages by which the police were looking into similarities with the rape of a ten-year-old girl in Hemel Hempstead. This established a link in the readers mind. (Newburn, 2017) However, the media doesn’t influence and shape public perceptions on crime because the public know that the press and media are biased in what they report. This is because of the reputation many news papers such as the sun hold about reporting unfairly. An example of this would be The Hillsborough Disaster reports where the sun claimed that “some fans picked pockets of victims, some fans urinated on the brave cops and some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.” (Gibson, 2004) After an inquest was reopened in 2012 The Sun apologised but didn’t respond to further questions. Leading to further public distrust as they choose to make no further comment on their actions. Therefore, leading to this press and media struggling to influence and shape public perceptions on crime as its seen as making untrue reports about crimes that never actually happened. Likewise, biased reporting is evident where Muslims carried out just 12.4 per cent of attacks in the US but received 41.4 per cent of news coverage (Kentish, 2017). This is because the media stereotypes Muslims to be terrorists, however this no longer influences or shapes the publics perceptions on crime as much as it used to back in 2001. This is due to Muslims now speaking out against the media blaming their religion on the terrorist crimes that’s been committed. Therefore, making the public question if the media are giving a fair report. An example of this would be the Husaini Islamic Trust UK, they hold a march through London every year for a “peaceful and successful procession and to cement a bond of unity and friendship between people of all ages and cultures under the banner of love for the Holy Household.” (Halkon, 2015) A volunteer at The Husaini Trust, Mohammed Al-Sharifi believes that “We are trying to undo people’s misconceptions about Islam – this a multi-faith event and we are trying to promote universal human values.” (Hayward, 2015). However, there was evidence to show that this was not covered on mainstream media. Therefore, the press and media are unable to influence and shape public perceptions on crime due to people realising that they report on selected events but there is proof that there are protests and demonstrations against such crimes.
The press and media influence and shape public perceptions on crime. This is because, a small-scale piece of survey research (Schlesinger and Tumber, 1994) found relations between individuals media consumption and effects on people’s behaviour. The more people watched or read the media the more they were afraid of crime. An example of this would be heavy television watchers and readers of tabloid newspapers, these individuals feel worried about being “mugged” or physically attacked. (Newburn, 2017) Violent and sexual imagery have been considered as the root of youthful misbehaviour, an example of this concern in media includes horror comics in the 1950s. The campaign against horror comics in Britain surfaced as anti-American backlash but was soon narrowed by numerous interest groups, the comics were seen as a threat to traditional English values. (Barker, 1984) Likewise, with the case of James Bulger the judge focused upon the violent film at the time “Childs Play 3”. In 2011 “Grand theft auto” and rap music was thought to be a major contributor to the English riots. This is because from a behaviourism approach these films, music and games manipulated people’s attitudes as well as behaviour. Leading to aggression and violence becoming a learned behaviour. (Newburn, 2017). Therefore, effecting how individuals would be influenced by the media. This would then shape the general public’s perceptions on crime as having reports such as Paul Routledge’s daily mirror article, criticising rap music because it is encouraging a violent culture. (Routledge, 2011) However, the media doesn’t influence and shape public perceptions on crime this is because there is now a largely experimental social science that has attempted to study and isolate causality in the media. This has been conducted to discover whether there is a correlation between viewing sex or violence in the media and if it contributes to attitudes and behaviours that follows. (Newburn, 2017) This led to an overall effect size being found. S. Hearold reviewed 230 studies of television and social behaviour her results found that prosocial effects were stronger and more enduring than antisocial effects. This was both in a laboratory and in natural conditions (Hearold, 1986) therefore showing it had a higher positive than negative effect. Another criticism of whether individual’s media consumption and their levels of fear was related was that many of the experiment situations were in an artificial environment. (Gauntlett, 2001; Livingstone, 1996) Leading to inefficient results being collected as a laboratory is nothing like real-life. Therefore, the results gained from these forms of experiments would show little about how the individuals would act in real life.
In conclusion I believe that the press and media does influence and shape public perceptions on crime. This is because it gives people a false perception on how often serious crimes occur. It gives people a false reality of how dangerous their country or town is, therefore making people further afraid or wary of crime due to it being reported locally. However, it depends on how reliable the source who is reporting the crime truly is to fully have the public’s perception influenced. Most importantly the press and media shape public perceptions on crime because they present the story in a more exaggerative, interesting way rather than a statistical. Therefore, more people will read them so more individuals will be influenced.