Criminology Media Essay

Critically examine the relationship between the media and the criminal justice system. In your answer you should consider the following: How does the media portray crime? How does the public respond to media reporting? How does the reporting impact upon criminal justice policies? Use contemporary examples

The relationship between the media and the criminal justice system has become dependent as both are influential on each other. The media provides both benefits and weaknesses, that are associated with the criminal justice system. It may be useful through informing the general public on a wide range of concerning information. However, if the media’s power becomes too influential on the criminal justice system, then other aspects of government and policing will lack attention.

Furthermore, as the criminal justice system attempts to focus on preventing and investigating crimes in Australia, the media tends to neglect the hard-working police force and focus on problematic issues that may or may not have effects on the society, which often depicts a poor image of the criminal justice system. The media’s distorted image is also portrayed as the perception that crime in Australia has been shown to be increasing, although statistics show otherwise.

The media’s main duty is to inform the general public. It is a device of communication, information, entertainment and news production. It takes different forms, such as factual media, including the news, or fictional such as television series and movies that occupy a crime genre. However, other further goals of the media are to attain an audience, receive positive ratings and withdraw a response from its audience. Morris Janowitz (1968) identifies the conditions within society that have allowed for the media to flourish,in regards to ‘urbanisation, industrialisation and modernisation’. This development of media has allowed it to become increasingly available and frequent and consequently, technological advancements have allowed for new categories of media to arise.

Teun A. van Dijk (1995 pp 10.), suggests the outcome of this is due to the power of the media and is “generally symbolic and persuasive, in the sense that the media primarily have the potential to control to some extent the minds of readers or viewers…” In conjunction with competition, goals to attain ratings, responses and views, seem to results in pitfalls within the media as it often distorts the image of crime.

It becomes evident when examining the media’s representation of crime, that an overwhelming amount of attention is focused on violent crime, street crime and the criminal justice system. ‘Beware of Dangerous Australia, Japanese Tourists Warned’ (1988), ‘The Violent Society. Public Fears Deepen as the Law Seems to Lose its Grip’ (1987), ‘Nooses Sent to Police Stations’ (1988) and ‘Rape and Drugs – Madness Stalks the Manicured Streets of the Capital’ (1988) are merely few of these articles in the past, that reflect a still current trends of crime-related headlines.

Also, statistics are often misinterpreted. Don Weatherburn addresses the media as being the main ones at fault for the abuses of statistics and he goes on further to list the types of abuses of statistics including “misrepresentation of the facts, selective reporting of the facts, misleading commentary, misleading headlines and the lag in reporting.” Furthermore, media outlets, particularly the televised news and newspapers, frame their headlines to be commercially affective.

The media seems to have forgotten about the high amount of property offences that occur, whereas murder and robbery are the preponderate matter in the media (Surette, 1998). What’s more, a large amount of stereotypical images have evolved within the media, specific to age, race and gender. The Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales (2003) concedes the media has emphasized crime involving youth especially with in the south-Western region of Sydney. Similarly, cultural stereotypes are often stressed within the media. (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995, p.688).

An example of the current misrepresentation of the media is highlighted in cultural issues faced by Indigenous Australians. In 1991, The Report of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence was published and amongst other issues, it argued that Australian’s held a broad opinion the that violence of racial groups was increasing. Furthermore, it asserted that there was no concern portrayed by the media of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which endured for 4 years, investigating over 100 Indigenous Australian’s who died in custody/police detention.

This is a major concern, as it portrays discrimination within the Australian media and leads one to question are there other issues faced by Indigenous Australians, as well as other disadvantaged sociocultural groups that have not been voiced in media report, but would have perhaps if the issue was faced by those of an Anglo-Saxon culture. As a result of stereotypical articles that accentuate Indigenous Australians as the perpetrator rather than the victim, social responses are evoked such as David Ross, director and CEO of the Northern Land Council reporting, “Newspapers allowed their lust for a front page with shock value to overrule any sense of decency towards the people involved”.

The extent to which the media influences the general public is evident through research conducted, Broadhurst & Indermaur (1982) that exemplifies a landscape of viewpoints in society. In conjunction with The National Social Science Survey and the Australian Election Study (AES), two conclusions infer that the public overestimates the prevalence of crime, with 70% of respondents reporting that ‘crime has increased over the last years’ (to some degree) and the public is not social satisfied with the harshness of punishment within the Criminal Justice System (Indermaur 1987, 1990). Within the survey, individuals were also asked to identify how significant sources were in configuring their view of crime.

The outcome presented that media is the predominant source, with 80% of people suggesting that at least one source of media was the main instrument that developed their perception of crime. Moreover, Judy Putt, a Senior Research Investigator of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, reports that as a result of the dependency of the Australian society to gain information about crime from the media, “the public’s perception is that violence is increasing”.

Additionally, even though the media is supposedly a source of information and news, its mechanism of informing also produces other societal impacts. As a result of media coverage, individuals may benefit by preserving an awareness of social occurrences and keep up to date, however there also negative effects as well. The media asserts themes onto its audience through priming which influences the public to embrace certain thoughts about public policies and public officials, Robinson (1976). The media also evokes a fear in crime, and may even arouse moral panic.

Cohan’s ‘Folk devils and moral panics: the creation of the Mods and the Rockers’ implies that the media alerts the public of a disparaged, menacing sub-culture or group that seems to be of threat. Moral panic, itself describes an epoch of affairs that develop anxiety of a threat in the public and arises subsequently through a prevalence or great significance focused on a phenomenon or group. It is not usually debated as the main informer, the media is considered to be a professional source.

Likewise, anxiety is exaggeratedly caused within victims of violent crime who may have undergone trauma. The NSW government has created, ‘Respectful Reporting: Victims of Violent Crime Media Strategy’, which is a campaign to lower the effect of the media creating fear in prior victims who have been traumatised and are trying to move on in life.

It is inevitable with such impacts that the Criminal Justice System must react, as consequence of the immense pressure that the media exerts on government measures to prevent crime. Garland (2001) asserts that because of the promotion of crime occurrences and media’s ability to frame moral evaluation, punitive measures are being taken by those who uphold duties within the Criminal Justice System. An example within the media is the current topic of shooting within NSW. Sky News published an article with the headline, ‘NSW ALP says shootings need tough laws’.

This title already suggests that certain policies need to be adapted in order meet the crime rate that seems to a lot higher than during other months with ‘7 shootings in 6 days’. The connotation of the focus on polices affecting crime, is that other concerns of the criminal justice system and government in general aren’t paid as much attention, because they aren’t as stressed within the media. As certain issued are highly focused on, the media influences its audience to believe that certain issues require more political attention.

Also, once an issue that involves the Criminal Justice System is expressed in the media, the police force and politicians are likely to aspire to illustrate their involvement in doing something about the specific problem expressed. Reflecting in the ‘NSW crime spree’ as described by Sky News, this becomes apparent as Acting Assistant Commissioner reported to Sky News, ‘It’s certainly one of the worst crime weeks we’ve had on record.’

Even though the statement presents a threat, it goes further to say that the strategies implemented to tackle such crime is effectively working, specifying on ‘increased powers to move people on, tightened law to tackle alcohol-based violence, and anti-consorting and anti-gang laws.’ The increasing importance of assuring the public, attempts to avoid the loss of confidence and trust that the general public hold within the Criminal Justice System itself and its actors, such Police; Prosecutors; Defence lawyers; Magistrates; Juries; Judges; Prison and probation often depicted in the media.

To conclude, the influence of the media has been hugely influential in not only reshaping the ideas correlated with the criminal justice system but go further to distort images of crime in the general public of Australia, regardless of the actual statistics that show crime trends in Australia are generally declining. Consequently, the criminal justice system is urged to present itself managing crime which in most cases has led to developing harsher sentencing amongst other policy changes.

The management of such procedures is thus a product of the media wide spread availability, which has caused a misrepresentation of crime statistics, influences fear of crime in society and causes actors of the criminal justice system to implement new measures attempting to keep society general satisfied and keep trust and confidence with society. Bricknell, Samantha. 2008. “Trends in violent crime” Issued in Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, no. 359 ISBN 978 1 921185 84 7 Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, June 2008

Cohen, S. (1972), Folk Devils and Moral Panics, London: Paladin.

Dijk, Teun A. van. 1995. ‘Power and The News’ pg 10 Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1995 Access 27.04.13 Available at

Garland, David. 2001. The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Access 27.04.13

Haralambos, M., Holborn, M. (1995), ‘Sociology – Themes and Perspectives’, 4th edn, Collins Educational, Italy. Indermaur, David & Roberts, Lynne PERCEPTIONS OF CRIME AND JUSTICE (chapter 9) Jakubowicz, Andrew & Seneviratne Kalinga (1996). “Ethnic conflict and the Australian media” by and: Australian Centre for Independent Journalism University of Technology, Sydney. Access 27.04.13

Morris Janowitz. (1968). ‘The Study of Mass Communication’ International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences vol. 3. New York Macmillan. Retrieved May 02, 2013 from

Race Discrimination Commissioner. “National Inquiry into Racist Violence” National Inquiry Into Racist Violence, Sydney, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1991. Access 27.04.13

Respectful reporting: Victims of Violent CrimeMedia Strategy 2011 – 2012 Published by Victims Services Access 27.04.13$file/VS_MediaStrategy_2011-2012.pdf

Roberts, Lynne. Indermaur, David. ‘What Australians think about crime and justice: results from the 2007 Survey of Social Attitudes’. AIC Reports Research and Public Policy Series. Published by the Australian Institute of Criminology Access 27.04.13

Ross, David. “Fairfax news in bad taste” Published Thu, July 31, 2008. Access 27.04.13

Robinson, John E. “The Press and the Voter.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 427. (Sep., 1976): pp.95-103

Surette, Ray. 2007. ‘Media, Crime and Criminal Justice: Images, Realities and Policies’, 3rd Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth Weatherburn, Don (2011). ‘Uses and abuses of crime statistics’ NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research CRIME AND JUSTICE Bulletin Accessed 27.04.13$file/CJB153.pdf