The Media’s Role in Society

The media’s role in society is to inform people about everyday life through communications such as Television and newspapers. The information in which these communications display can be very diverse in their opinions about society, such as crime. This assignment will look in detail about the way in which media can influence public perceptions on crime and whether the information given is actually accurate in relation to official statistics specified by the government. This will include the analysis of crime stories from two different newspapers to learn the extent in which these newspapers portray different information about crime.

There have been many cases in history in which the media has controlled people’s views on society. For example Hitler was aware of the significance of good propaganda through media, in which he was able to take over power with the mass support of the people. The present day is the same. What people read in newspapers contributes to their views, such as crime, but realistically may not be true. For example the British Crime Survey asked respondents about their perceptions of how the level of crime was in the country as a whole.

It showed that around “two-thirds (65%) of people thought crime in the country as a whole had increased in the previous two years, with a third (33%) of people believing that crime had risen ‘a lot’. ” This shows that people have been influenced by the wrong information because the British Crime Statistics also shows that Crime in England and Wales has remained relatively stable in the past two years. This gives good evidence of how the media has influenced people’s perceptions on crime because for most people the media is the only source of information they obtain about crime.

The British Crime Survey gives statistics based on people’s experiences on crime. The current number of people surveyed is forty thousand per year, which obviously causes problems as the current population is sixty million. Even so it is a very important source of information because it addresses the crimes which are not reported and also gives the publics perception on crime. Jock Young argued the importance of finding out information about unreported crime. He believed that a great number of victimisation “genuinely belong to the ‘dark figure. ’ Newburn (2007:66) As Quetelet imself stated, “Our observations can only refer to a certain number of known and tried offences, out of the unknown sum total of crimes committed. ” Walklate (2005:30). This is exactly why the British Crime Survey is so important, to try and determine the ‘dark figure’. The media adversely affects people’s perceptions about crime in different ways. For example it has been found that elderly women are more likely to feel susceptible to crime while young men are less likely. This suggests that the media have more of an impact on elderly women than young men.

The statistics show that this should not be the case as young men are more likely to be victims of crime while older women are less likely. For example The Home Office Statistical Bulletin for crime in England and Wales 2007 found that “Young men age 16-24, were more at risk, of becoming a victim of violet crime, with 13. 8% experiencing a violent crime of some sort in the year prior to the interview. ” It also shows that “the risk of becoming a victim of violent crime was considerably lower for older people, which includes all types of violence, with the lowest 0. % for women ages 75 or older. ” These statistics give strong evidence that the media definitely has an influence over older women, as they are in more fear of victimisation than they necessarily should be.

On the other hand it also shows that the media does not have a strong impact on young men’s perceptions as they should have more ‘fear of crime’, as they are more likely to be a victim. Moral panic is closely linked to media and the fear of crime. Hale et al (2005:173) gives an excellent definition of moral panic. Moral panic refers to the disproportionate and hostile social reaction to a group or condition perceived as a threat to societal values. ” The term ‘Moral Panic’ originally came from Jock Young in an article from 1981 which talked about public fear on drug abuse. In the article Young describes “the moral panic over drug-taking results in the setting up of drug squads”, Newburn (2007:95) which lead to mounting arrests. A good example is the ‘Mod and Rockers’ story. This was the clash of two teenage gangs on a beach in Margate on May the 18th 1964.

The story caused serious debate about the nature and extent of the incident, but it was known for sure that the media heightened people’s fears by exaggerating the situation. Exaggerating, highlighting, over-representing stories of crime can have several advantages and disadvantages to the public. The advantages are that it can make people more aware of crime and therefore more careful in situations were crime is at high risk. This could actually decrease criminal activity because if the opportunity is not there the criminal is less likely to proceed, for example burglary.

If people locked doors and windows in their house before they leave there is a less likely chance of burglary because the opportunity is not there for the criminal. Also it introduces people’s knowledge about new crimes for example internet crimes. On the other hand there are several disadvantages about fuelling people’s perceptions on crime. For example, the police sometimes give the public a false sense of security, when they exaggerate their success on crime prevention. The media can shift public perception by raising the concern on crime, unnecessarily.

It can also cause ‘moral panic’ which can deeply distress the public. A good example influencing public’s perception on crime is a news paper article from the Sun, Tuesday the 15th of October, 2007. The title states that ‘Knifing are No2 to Terror’. It tells readers that teen murders are the second biggest challenge to police after terrorism. There has been a recently high profile about knife culture in the media, but the British Crime Survey shows that violent crime is down by 11% to the previous year.

There is obviously a concern about knife crime, especially in London, but is there not also an increasing gun culture? Relating the situation to ‘terrorism’ is blowing the whole incident out of proportion. If there was a serious case of knifings there would obviously be an increase in violent crime from the British Crime Statistics, which there isn’t. The fact that a senior police officer is quoted stating this and shows a photo of him makes the article more convincing. The editor has exaggerated his comment and shows us why people think that crime is rising as a whole in the country.