The official statistics used to determine the crime rates and the problem of crime are based on the recording by the police of notifiable offences. The media then relate these statistics to the public. By studying newspaper coverage of official crime statistics would allow the public to determine for themselves the problem of crime, but is this a true picture of crime? I will in this essay explain the complexity of studying crime statistics through media coverage by using two newspaper articles one taken from The Sun, a tabloid newspaper and the other The Guardian which is a broadsheet, they are both daily newspapers.
The media can generate fear; people read about crimes that happen and take it as it may happen to them. Different newspapers word and categorise crime differently according to who is reading it. Left realists believe that in inner city areas the media’s coverage of crime reinforce what people already know. The majority of people that fear crime have never experienced crime, but read about it daily in newspapers and television.
A nation stalked by FEAR’ (The Sun, 17th July 2002) is an article written by Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun newspaper, a tabloid newspaper whose audiences are working-class families living in inner city areas, that have been a victim or a witness to crime. Within the headlines it highlights that rape cases are up by 27%, violent crime up by 22% and drug offences up by 16%. The Sun states that its readers were fearful of becoming victims of crime; this was reinforced by the disturbing statistics shown.
Murder had risen by 18%, violence against another up by 28%, sex offences 17%, gun crime was up by 35%, wounding 11%, child abduction 45%, death by drink or reckless driving 12%, immigration offences 31%, obscene publication offences 151%. All these statistics have high percentages and it may seem to the public reading it that we have a criminal society that is totally out of control especially in inner city suburbs such as Birmingham, Manchester and parts of London.
An explanation of the murder rate increasing was down to the fact that the murderer GP Harold Shipman murdered 172 people allowing for the distortion in the figures. Some crimes had decreased such as robberies that were down by 11%, vehicle theft had decreased and burglaries remained the same. Classification and the recording of crimes have changed, allowing police to record and report minor offences even if there were no physical damage to another person or if a minor scuffle had occurred, the crime still had to be recorded as a violent crime, all crimes are now recorded even if there were no police action.
David Blunkett, The Home Secretary was convinced that the crime rate had fallen, the figures seemed distorted because of the new system of the National Crime Recording Standards, forcing police forces and law agencies to report and record all incidents, even if no police action was taken. Therefore he is admitting himself that media relating crime statistics are inaccurate as to the true rate of crime. Raw police data showed an increase of 22% of violent crime compared with figures without the system would have seen an increase of 2%.
The British Crime Survey asked 40,000 adults about their thoughts on crime, it is worth noting however that questions that involved murder or crimes against juveniles were omitted from the survey, but according to this survey crime had decreased, but the public’s fear of crime had increased. Readers of The Sun were also surveyed and they were aware that crime was increasing. In clear contrast to the article detailed above Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper on the same day relating the same figures.
The headline read ‘Risk of falling victim of crime at 20 year low. The article began with disclosing the rise in violent crime being a mere 2%, the increase in drug crime by 17% with an explanation as to why there was more police enforcement, therefore more crimes being detected. Rape was up by 27% with an explanation of more people are reporting the crime of rape and sexual assault, more than the increase in attacks. The Guardian highlighted the fact that robberies were down by 14% and there was a fall in burglaries, being described as a person being burgled once in every 50 years.
The article stated that it had the most accurate methods of recording crime, although with more people reporting crimes it has been interpreted as there being more crimes. Tony Blair set up a Street Crime Campaign to combat crime and this is said to have an effect on reducing crime rates, however this was not mentioned in The Sun. The article also indicated that there was a strong relationship between unemployment, burglary and car crimes, because of the fall in unemployment there has been a decline in car crime.
Although the article notes the murderer GP Harold Shipman and his 172 victims, it also reported that violent crime and sex offences are more likely to be solved than crimes of theft or burglary. Chris Fox president of the Association of Chief Police Officers says he likes the new system of recording crime, he thought it would give a more accurate pictures of the true level of crime. The highest people at risk of becoming a victim of crime are single parents, living on inner city council estates and urban professionals.
The Guardian’s attitude towards Britain being a nation fearful of crime is overlooked. The BCS states that 43% of the readers of The Sun thought crime had shot up compared to only 26% of the readers of The Guardian. By deconstructing the figures in the two articles and comparing the two. The Sun seems to be taking the stance of Stanley Cohen’s ‘Moral Panics’ in 1964. He researched the disturbances between Mods and Rockers on Easter Bank Holiday in Clacton.
The national press spoke of ‘a day of terror’, whereby gangs of youths destroyed a whole town, but in reality there were no gangs, the disturbances happened on the sea front not the town centre as was assumed. The press admitted that they had over-reported on the crimes that were committed, but by this time the damage had already been done. Police stepped up surveillance, more arrests were made and this in turn added to more media hype and added more concern to the public.
The media distorts real events as in Cohen’s moral panics because of the media the youth at the time were labelled as deviant as such they adopted labels and were deviant to suit their labels. Selective reporting by police and law enforcement agencies can seem as if there are massive crime waves and as such social problems occur. The media can stir up public concern and cause certain types of behaviour to be labelled as deviant. Radicals believe moral panics cause youth to be the centre of police and authorities attention.
They also allow the authorities and law enforcement agencies the reason to gain more power to stigmatize and alienate youth. Radical criminologists believe crime is constructed through politics, law, the media and social interaction. On the other hand left realists move away from the social construction of crime and believes that crime violates legal codes set by the state, the state generate definitions of crime and provide reasons for the laws that are put in place, to establish an ordered society. Rape and domestic violence are not the ammunition for moral panics.
For a crime to be recognised it needs to be labelled, the meanings that are associated with these labels can be seen as truth, the criminal is then labelled accordingly. The more labels that are prominent the more that crime is recognised. Crime figures come from police records detailing convictions, cautions, age and sex of the offender. The majority of offenders are male under 21, usually ethnic minorities, unemployed and live in an area with a high level of crime; this labelling incites the public to alienate anyone who fits into the stereotypical description.
In the two articles and any other crime statistics portrayed in the media will cause disillusions regarding crime, they imagine the crimes to be happening all the time and this is all that is reported. The public depend on the media coverage for its pictures of crime, but the personal fear of being a victim of crime is increasing because of the media coverage. News stories influence policy makers and the public about what should be done to ensure that the public are safe.
The issues and the extent of crime have to be made visible for them to bring it out in the open and to pass laws to remedy the problem. The official statistics do not include crime that is not reported such as computer fraud, prostitution, child abuse, work theft, rape and racial harassment. Burglary with loss and also theft were 100% reported, insurance claims and ease of obtaining money through insurance being the main reason.
Corporate crime or white collar crimes were not recorded or seem to go unnoticed even though they can have more damaging effects of society than petty crime. 50% of crime is not reported for various reasons such as lack of police interest, the offender is known to the victim, they do not realise they are committing a crime and for the sentences that the offenders face is not worth the victim going though more agony in a police station or court room. Newspapers emphasize violent crimes, the more unusual the crime, the more likely it will be reported.
Multiple victims, multiple offenders, unusual methods, white, children, the elderly, female or how affluent a neighbourhood one lives in increases the likelihood that it will be covered by the media. In reality murder is rare and is often committed by someone known to the victim, yet it is depicted that murder is mostly done by a complete stranger. The Newspaper articles do not explain the reason for the crime, they detail the crime in intricate detail, but they do not reason why the crime happened, what could have been done to prevent it, or what measures they have to stop the crime happening again.
Newspaper audiences want news about violence and news is a business that aims to attract bigger and better audiences as such editors, reporters and journalists have to choose news they believe will attract the most audiences. A low interest in a murder story would be a drug dealer killing another drug dealer or an ethnic minority killing another. People are not interested in stories of this kind, but if a black kills a white, this is seen as a top story line. News reporters have an invested interest in what news is reported.
The majority of readers do not experience crime, but rely on the media to inform them about crime, but statistics such as those shown in The Sun misinform the public and misguides the power structure. Crime is a problem and demands a certain amount of attention for there to be any political action. The information given to the public distorts the public’s thinking regarding crime, they believe that most crime was violent, the perpetrators black and the victims white.
News stories reinforce people’s stereo-typical perceptions of crime that enable society to respond to the problem of crime. The statistical rates of crime increased while the real crime rates dropped. Murder is the most reported crime, yet it is the least crime committed. Over-coverage will make the public believe there is more crime than what there actually is. Crime statistics need to paint a more accurate picture of the true extent of crime reporting accurately who suffers from crime and what can be done to prevent it.
Other agencies could give more accurate information regarding crime and criminal activities than the police, such as health departments, coroner’s offices, hospitals and the community itself. This would allow crime to be put into perspective with what is reported. The media not only causes fear of crime it also feeds the fascination that the public have about crime. Media and crime have become intertwined. Crimes such as murderer Ian Huntley who killed 2 young girls for example, the newspapers glorified in the stories that were reported, competing against each other to get the best headlines.