Does the Media Affect People’s Fear of Crime?

Table of Content

Newburn (2007) investigates how press and media coverage affects public fear of crime by analyzing recent examples. He argues that television, radio, newspapers, and the internet play a crucial role in providing information about crime and shaping our view of the world. This essay examines different aspects including the concept of fear of crime, media portrayals of crime, newsworthiness, and moral panics with the aim of determining if the press and media still influence people’s fears in today’s society.

According to Garofalo (1981:840), fear of crime was defined as:

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

‘Emotional response characterized by a feeling of fear and unease, triggered by the possibility of being physically harmed, and activated by perceived signals in the surroundings related to criminal activity.’

According to Lee and Farrall (2009:153), the mass media and interpersonal communications are evident sources of second hand information about crime. They argue that individuals’ perceptions of risk are unlikely to arise from their own personal, direct encounters with criminal incidents. Conversely, Lee and Farrall suggest that a considerable amount of research highlights the significant influence of hearing about events through the mass media in heightening public apprehensions about crime.

According to Lee (2007:187), the traditional saying of ‘if it bleeds it leads’ still holds true in news coverage. Lee also emphasizes that crimes involving violence make for compelling ‘bad’ news stories. Furthermore, specific stories can be linked to wider discussions on ‘crime’ and maintaining law and order. Lee cites the case of the panic in Britain in 2005 regarding ‘happy slapping’, the labeling of ‘hoodies’, and ‘anti-social behavior’.

According to Reiner (2012:262), news content is created and filtered by reporters who consider what makes a good story that their audience will be interested in. In a well-known early study, Chibnall (1977 cited in Newburn 2007:86) identified eight implicit guidelines for constructing news stories: Immediacy, Dramatisation, Personalisation, Simplification, Titillation, Conventionalism, Structured Access, and Novelty. In a study on the moral panic surrounding mugging, Hall et al (1978) argued that violence played a significant role in determining which events were considered newsworthy. They (1978:67-8) stated that any crime can gain attention in the news if violence becomes associated with it because violence exemplifies the news value of “negative consequences.”

According to Cozens (2003), newspaper reports have a tremendous impact on people’s attitudes towards crime. Those who prefer tabloids are nearly twice as likely to be concerned about crime compared to broadsheet readers.

According to Berger, Free, and Searles (2005:4), there is a new genre of television crime reporting known as tabloid-style infoainment. This genre includes shows like Cops, Americas Most Wanted, and Unsolved Mysteries. These programs blur the line between news and entertainment by presenting “true crime” stories. Their aim is to generate a collective disgust towards alleged criminals, while also intensifying our fear by suggesting that crime is widespread. Newburn (2007) points out that all forms of media tend to magnify the prevalence of violent crime in Britain.

According to Marsh and Melville (2008:40), moral panic is a widely used term that gained popularity in the 1970s due to Cohen’s work on youth subcultures. It refers to an exaggerated reaction from the media, police, or general public towards the activities of specific social groups. While these activities may be relatively insignificant, they are sensationalized in the media, causing increased anxiety and concern. Moral panic denotes an over-reaction on the part of the media or other societal institutions, which magnifies the original concern. This leads to the social group and their behavior being perceived as “folk devils,” as coined by Cohen.

According to Lee’s (2007) writing, Stan Cohen’s (1972) argument on crime stories remains relevant. Cohen’s analysis highlighted the media’s crucial role in creating moral panics.

According to Cohen (1972:45), the mass media follow specific criteria to determine what is considered newsworthy. There are no official guidelines instructing journalists to focus on subjects like drugs, sex, and violence, or to continually target certain groups such as youths and immigrants.

According to Critcher (2003), the scarcity of academic and secondary sources on paedophilia necessitates relying on newspaper coverage to comprehend the emergence and progression of this moral panic. By the late 1990s, newspaper reports about paedophilia had escalated into a state of moral panic. Within a span of one month, the Daily Mail featured 25 headlines addressing child abusers and paedophiles. On March 13, 1998, an editorial in the Daily Mail expressed concerns over releasing paedophiles and questioned the safety of our children. The British press’s coverage of paedophilia reached unprecedented levels by 2000 subsequent to the sexual murder of Sarah Payne, an eight-year-old girl who had been missing for two weeks.

There is compelling evidence indicating the genuine existence and consequences of the fear of crime. The press and media play a significant role in shaping public perception of society and the prevalence of crime through their presentation of crime stories. Both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers have an impact on how individuals react to these stories, with tabloids specifically emphasizing violent and sexual crimes in order to sensationalize topics like pedophilia or murder that capture readers’ attention. As a result, this can trigger moral panics fueled by media-induced hysteria, illustrating the power of the press and media to shape public fears related to crime.


The book “Crime, Justice and Society: An Introduction to Criminology” was written by Berger, J., Free, M., and Searles, P. in 2005. It is the second edition of the book and was published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in London.

According to Cozens (17th July 2003), the tabloids from contribute to the perpetuation of fear surrounding crime (accessed 4th November 2012).

Critcher, C. (2003) Moral Panics and the Media, Milton Keynes: Open University Press

The citation provided is from an article titled “The fear of crime: Causes and consequences” by Garofalo, J. It was published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology in 1981, volume 72, issue 2, on pages 839-857.

Lee, M. (2007) Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety, Cullompton: Willan Publishing

Lee, M and Farrall, S. (2009) Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety, Oxon: Routledge

Marsh, I. and Melville G. (2008), Crime, Justice and the Media, Oxon: Routledge

Mason, P. (2003) Criminal Visions, Media Representations of Crime and Justice, Cullompton: Willan Publishing

Newburn, T. (2007) Criminology, Cullompton: Willan Publishing

The findings of Williams and Dickinson’s study on the correlation between fear of crime and newspaper crime reporting were published in Volume 33, pages 33-42 of The British Journal of Criminology (1993).

Cite this page

Does the Media Affect People’s Fear of Crime?. (2017, Dec 24). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront