The media holds a great deal of power in the portrayal of crime within a society; they have the authoritarian right to manipulate events of crime from their perspectives which is illustrated frequently as being reality without a definite underlying cause, therefore inevitably they influence the publics perspective towards crime and current the social order, the main relationship between the media and the crime is the effect it has towards the members of the society I. e creating a moral panic.
The Media is seen to manufacture crime rather then to discover and portray it in its purest form; there are several processes which are needed to be undertaken before it can be televised or voiced from the media, I. e A journalist is frequently required to find an event of crime which is currently a taboo or a controversial subject and meets the new value criteria, which is designed to catch attention from the public, the event itself is distorted by the journalists who are exaggerating the criminals and focuses on the event rather the underlying causes.
Therefore crime shown on mass media can be seen as a socially constructed as it a outcome of social process where stories are cherry picked to attract the viewers in expense of other potentially more important news. Marxists may view this as an act to exploit the general working class people vulnerability with creating false but interesting and attractive stories to develop a profitable market with predominantly working class consumers.
However the isolation of a particular crime or trend of deviant events could be seen as an effective approach to tackle and minimise such specific crimes as the government are pressured into creating stronger punishments for the perpetrators and it also raises awareness within society. Richard Ericson et al’s study of Toronto found that 45 to 71 % of quality press and media coverage involved various deviant acts, whilst Williams and Dickinson (1993) found that British newspapers devote up to 30 % of their news space to crime and deviance, therefore this illustrates the huge media interest of crime.
However if the reports and articles are examined it can be argued that the media’s representation of crime do not support those of the official law statistics. One of the main causes is the over-representation of specific crimes, I. e Ditton and Duffy(1983) found that 46 % of media reports were about sexual and violent crimes contrasting to actual recorded policing figure which was only 3 %,these again highlights the selective nature of the media.
The consequences of over representing crimes can cause ethical issues as it can harm the standard of peoples lives by destroying their confidence psychologically and physically, I. e exaggerating violence with relation to black people could cause a to form a false stereotype which might lead to the chances of abuse and oppression in reality with regards to black people and other members of society. However it may be argued that the media helps reduce the more extreme and dangerous crimes by over-representing such crimes, I. rape and drug trafficking, as the government and society are more aware about extreme crimes and which can lead them to cohesively tackle these crimes with various forms of campaign and policies, this supports the functionalist view that media are social agents who help to maintain the social values and tackle those who oppose or threat the cohesiveness of a society. Stanley Cohen study of the youth subcultures in the early 1970’s of Britain shows the consequences of media exaggeration and its spiral which can lead to more deviant acts being committed in his influential book “Folk Devils and Moral Panics”.
Cohen examined the disturbances between two predominately working class teenage groups, the Mods and the Rockers. He established the exaggeration of the media as the prime cause behind the moral panic as they amplified events I. e using misleading phrases such as “invasion” in contrast to the tameness of the conflict in reality, Increasing the number of participants involved in the event and using symbols associated with deviance and crime.
Cohen argues that the media was responsible for the deviance amplification spiral by exaggerating the seriousness of the events by creating a dramatic fallacy, this lead to zero policing tolerance with regards to the two groups, this lead to them being seen as social outcasts, the folk devil and societies values and morals were seen as being threatened by these particular groups. More importantly the media created a distinct identification, I. e behaviour, clothing etc between these two groups which was later adopted by more youths which resulted in further conflict.
Therefore the media played a huge role in creating the moral panic by exaggerating and sensationalising events, presumably as a tool for marketing. However many critics argue that the study has major theoretical issues which undermines the validity of the study; It is said that Cohen was embracing the subculture himself which some argue was a case of conforming to the subculture completely, going native. Which meant that his subjective views in favour of the subcultures might have lead him to record subjective information which completely undermines the validity of the study.
The media’s portrayal of crime in wider context can be seen as dangerous as some video games and TV shows can illustrate a great intellectual insight to committing crime, particularly the vulnerable groups such as children are susceptible to imitating such behaviour, however Livingstone (1996) said that the concern of the media’s influence on children is due to societies views on childhood as an uncontaminated innocence in the private sphere.
The left realists Lea and Young argue that media can cause a sense of relative deprivation among the working class people as it tends to exaggerated the high paced and lavish lifestyle, it can be argued that many serious crimes could be due to relative deprivation as the media presents such materialistic images as norms of society which can lead to social exclusion of the working class people who then are willing to commit serious crimes to achieve such goals, this also links with Merton strain theory of the moral entrepreneurs(I. media executives) creating false norms and values which are almost impossible to achieve.
In conclusion the media plays an important role in manipulating peoples perception of crime by exaggerating and over representing specific events which ultimately undermines the validity of the true representation of crime and deviance shown in the media. In addition the media can also create crimes by isolating and polarising different groups, I. Mods and Rockers by distinguishing and exaggerating there images and behaviours falsely in contrast to reality, which could lead to vulenrable youths adopting these views from the media and creating a self fulfilling prophecy to imitate such violent behaviours. However functionalists argue that the media serves as an social agent which helps to maintain social cohesiveness by transmitting social heritages and cultures which socialising people.