Media And The Public Perception Of Crime

3712 words - 15 pages

In the United States, violent crime has been steadily declining since its peak in the early 1990s (Lott, 2013). Violent crime, as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, includes four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (FBI, 2012). These crimes are measured by the Justice Department in terms of number reported by victims as well as those tried and convicted in a court of law (FBI, 2012). Despite the steady decrease, the vast majority of Americans admit to possessing a very genuine fear of violent crime both in their local neighborhoods and in the nation at large (Lott, 2013). When surveyed over the last several years, nearly half of the American population consistently believed violent crime had increased from the year prior (Cohn, 2013). In reality, the instances of violent crime had been and continue to be deteriorating at a rapid pace (Cohn, 2013).
What factors contribute to this significant gap between perceptions of violent crime and the reality of it? When asked where they obtain their information about crime, an overwhelming plurality of random participants ages 13 to 59 responded with the mass media (Warr, 2013). In the context of this survey and also this paper, the mass media is defined as diverse mainstream media technologies intended to reach a widespread audience (Warr, 2013). This encompasses all television, radio, internet, and paper outlets which broadcast to a wide range of audiences across the spectrum—in this case, across the nation (Warr, 2013). For purposes of comparison, it is necessary to specify the definition of local media, as we will touch upon its implications further down the road (Chan, 2012). Local media is distinguished from mass media in the sense that it is not intended to reach the “masses”; rather, its constituents are limited to a much smaller population and mostly remain confined to local issues and events (Chan, 2012). It is important to make this distinction in order to understand how different types of media play varying roles in the public’s thoughts, fears, and opinions.
The question of mass media and perception of crime has been a hotly contested subject by a variety of notable scholars in recent years. Because a consensus on this issue is far from being achieved, it is important to consider both sides of the argument before formulating an educated assessment of the topic. On the one side, scholars have argued that certain mass media tactics such as extensive coverage of violent crime and the glamorization of crime on television are to blame (Warr, 2013). They believe the mass media is doing an injustice to the nation by providing significant misinformation to the general public that influences its crime perceptions in negative ways (Chan, 2012). Some scholars have counter-argued that blaming the mass media is an easy way to pit responsibility on someone or something for this highly complex and dynamic issue (Surette, 2011). Many...

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