Media and the Fear of Crime: A Research Proposal
Media is very useful in disseminating information in the society. Through its widespread use, people everywhere become aware of news, trends and issues that are prevalent in the society. Media also entertains people and it describes and prescribes conduct and behaviour among people. Media is not only an information dissemination channel; it also provides entertainment and serves as the means of marketing for various products and services being offered everywhere.
When people read or watch news and public affairs programs and even when watching entertainment shows, they cannot help but be exposed to violence and the occurrence of crime.
Whether in television, print, radio and the internet, the reality of crimes from different places in the country are being shown, aired and printed. How do people react to the things that they read, watch or listen to?
On a surface-level observation, media can perpetuate the feeling or impression that the crime rate is greater than it really is.
This is because the perception of people may be based on what they see on TV and read on the papers instead of a deeper analysis of crime based on facts. Is fear of crime associated with too much exposure with media that portray crime and violence? The perception of citizens about crime and the relationship of media to this are very important in the efforts of law enforcers and government agencies in reducing the crime rate and protecting people against crime.
Research Question and Hypothesis
The role of media in promoting the fear of crime among people will be the main problem that this study will look into. How do media affect the fear of crime among people? Does exposure to media informing or depicting crime (such as news, entertainment shows and articles) increase the fear of crime in people? The implications of the role of media in the fear of crime among people will be explored so as to arrive at recommendations that could help law enforcers and government agencies to use media better in the fight against violent crimes in the society.
This study will draw upon Cultivation Theory, which was developed primarily in looking at the role of television in the American society and its impact on Americans. According to this theory, the widespread fear of crime may be explained by the heavy exposure to the programming of prime-time television and other related media, that portray violent crime. If this theory were in place, then it can be said that fear of crime is the result of too much exposure to television news that are full of crime and violence (Romer, Jamieson & Aday, 2006).
This study will therefore investigate the hypothesis that “Exposure to television news full of crime and violence is the main reason for the level of fear of crime in individuals.”
Conceptualization and Variables
Fear of crime refers to the perception that crime is more ominous and prevalent than it really is. It also refers to the fear of becoming a victim of crime. In order to measure the level of fear of crime in a specific individual, it would be necessary to look into the perception of a person on the prevalence of crime. Does he consider crime as prevalent in the community or not. Does this perception correspond to the actual crime rate in the individual’s community? The degree in which the individual’s perception of the prevalence of crime differs with the actual crime rate can be identified as the level of his fear of crime.
The level of actual crime rate should also be measured for this study as this will become a benchmark for measuring the actual level of crime and the perceived crime rate of the individual. Established statistics of crime rate from the police force and from the Justice Department will be analysed together with literature related to crime rate.
Another related dependent variable that must be measured is the perceived effectiveness of crime busting and law enforcement. The individual’s perception about this would be instrumental in measuring the level of his fear of crime. The individual’s perception of the possibility of him becoming a crime victim is another important aspect of the variable that should be measured.
One of the independent variables that should be measured is how the television shows are saturated with crime-related messages and video footages. The frequency of showing these crime and violent footages and messages will be logged and the level of exposure of the respondents will be noted in this study. The percentage of crime-related footages and messages will be logged and compared to the total air time of the show.
Cultivation Theory will be used for this study. This theory was developed by Larry Gross and George Gerbner in the mid-1960s and was meant to look at the impact of television to the populace. According to this theory, television is becoming a very important shaper of preferences and behaviour among those who are heavily exposed to it. At its core, Cultivation Theory holds that exposure to the television greatly influences the audiences’ perception of reality and their society (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1986).
The impact of the television, however, is not unidirectional. It does not affect people in the same way. There are also other factors that shape the perception of audiences concerning their society and their reality. These factors may include their family background, religion and other elements (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1986).
This theory makes good use of Content Analysis and applies it on television shows. After analysing the content of TV shows, the beliefs and attitudes of individuals will be measured so that the impact of the TV shows could be analysed. Surveys and case studies are then used to check the individual responses to the prevalence of crime and violence on TV (Miller, 2005).
This study will rely on content analysis to look into the content of TV shows, particularly during the prime time. The frequency of crime and violence on prime time TV will be logged and listed for a period of four weeks. This can help the researcher understand the level of crime and violence being shown on TV. This will also be a benchmark for the analysis of the perception of respondents concerning the prevalence of crime in the society.
In analysing the level of fear of crime of individuals, this study will not use survey. Rather, it will use case study and look at a group of individuals as they watch TV shows and shape their perceptions about the fear of crime. A total of twenty individuals will be considered as the sample so their perceptions can be analysed more deeply. Their viewing habits will be looked into as well as their responses to the shows that they are viewing. By interviewing these respondents, the level of the data that will be gathered will be deep and meaningful. Other factors that may affect their perceptions will also be gathered so as to understand the intervening factors that affect the fear of crime that they have. This fear of crime may also be affected by any crime that they may have experienced before. In this case, such situations will be taken into account in the analysis.
The data collected for this study will be collected and put into a database for easier manipulation and tabulation. The body of data will be collected together and grouped together into three: one, the actual crime rate and the description of the level of crime awareness in the society; second is the analysis of the shows during prime time and their crime or violence content; lastly the reaction and perception of the respondents concerning crime and the fear of crime will be logged.
The interrelationship of the data and variables will be analysed and commonalities and differences will be noted. Based on these commonalities and differences, the hypothesis will be tested and validated. Although the methodology is qualitative, this study will seek to generate in depth data and explanation.
The data will be presented in a manner easily understandable to readers. Tables and graphical representation of the relationship of the variables and data will be presented as these can sum up what hundreds of words would spell out. This can also help the researcher in understanding the relationships between and among the variables.
Significance of this Study
This study will be significant to law enforcers and crime counsellors as they can look at the perceptions of individuals concerning crime. In addition to this, media practitioners can also become more sensitive to their programming and show planning. This will be of immense importance in helping shape public perceptions toward the prevention of crime.
When the role of media is established, then those who are tasked in dealing with crime will be more aware of the impact of television and media in crime prevention. On the part of TV viewers, they can be better educated as the effects of media on their perceptions and they can be more critical in viewing television and consuming the products and services that media offers them. This is a good way then to start educating the public on how to become critical viewers and informed citizens who can help make their society safer and more comfortable.
This study does not have much ethical problems or difficulties. The grey areas perhaps would be the perception of the respondents on the disclosure of their viewing habits and the shows that they watch. In this case, they should be assured at the outset that the information they will share will be kept in confidence and will be used only for the purposes of this research study and nothing more.
There are not big issues involved in analysing the content of TV shows during prime time. In fact, this study can actually help in developing more balanced and accurate reporting in the media. Instilling fear of crime may not be the intention of the TV shows but fear of crime is a fact and it is affecting a number of people in the society. Most of the time, the perception of people is that the crime rate is greater than it actually is. The researcher will have to be careful, however, in presenting the idea that only the media is responsible for the fear of crime in the society.
Brief Review of Related Literature
This is a brief review of literature related to the subject matter. These articles and studies will be consulted in conducting the research. With this review of literature, the researcher will learn what areas in the topic are not yet explored deeply by existing literature and how the study could contribute in the creation of knowledge and awareness concerning the fear of crime.
Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz (1997) declared that the audience has an important role in interpreting the message that they receive in media. According to the authors, the attributes of the audience are an important distinguishing factor on the effect of media on the fear of crime. Their study utilised the survey method of research among the population of Tallahasse, Florida at a time when there was a panic on the impact of media on the fear of crime. The researchers looked at race, gender and even age as an intervening factor in the impact of media on the fear of crime. They found out that the experience of their respondents with crime, their income and perceived level of security do not really matter on their fear of crime. This study is a good starting point for this research study. While the methodology will not be the same, the findings of the researchers are worth looking at as a benchmark for comparing the findings of this research project.
In addition to the responses of audiences, media practitioners’ view of crime and violence depiction in media is also important. As such, Schlesinger and Tumber (1994) interviewed editors and journalists concerning the process of crime news reporting with focus on interpretation and presentation. The process is far from simple. Various stakeholders such as the police, justice system professionals and policymakers are involved in the way that reporting is made. These professionals want to promote their own images positively especially when they get a chance to be featured as resource person by print and broadcast media practitioners.
The perspective of the media practitioners is often unexplored in research about the fear of crime. Yet, with this presentation, this study will get a better view of how the crime-related news presented on TV and print. Crime-related news are far from being the message only of media. It is rather a confluence of various factors and elements in the environment and the society. This should be kept in mind by the researcher and this will also be worth communicating to audiences and individuals who are watching TV and reading news that are related to crime and violence.
The responses of citizens to crime reporting and crime itself greatly vary. Benchmarking is difficult and may create certain problems. This is why the work of Skogan and Maxfield (1981) is very relevant. They conducted interviews with various people from businessmen, community leaders and citizens to determine the different kinds of responses and attitudes towards crime. These responses provide a kind of benchmark data that could help researchers understand the responses of individuals to crime, victimisation and vulnerability. The analysis of Skogan and Maxfield (1981) relied on US Census data and is a necessary starting point for analysis. They also looked into the phenomenon of the fear of crime and how it affected people.
The situation of the immediate community of individuals is also an important factor in the prevalence of the fear of crime according to Perkins and Taylor (1996). Community disorder can be measured by looking at the perceptions of the members of the community, the level of crime in the community and the way that reporters and media practitioners view crime in their neighbourhood. Although this research project will not deal with the community background of the respondents, it would be an interesting piece of information to look briefly at the community of the respondents and how this might affect their fear of crime.
Box, Hale and Andrews (1988) constructed a model that explains the fear of crime by looking at the data contained at the British Crime Survey. The researchers looked at the factors of race, age, gender, confidence in the police, the cohesion or disruption in their community, their experiences with crime, the risk perception and instances of criminality in the neighbourhood and the prevalence of fear of crime. Their study was a highly empirical one and enumerated a number of variables that would be worth exploring by this study. Although Box, Hale and Andrews’ study was made in the late 1980s, it is still relevant to this day and would need updating to take into account the changes in the social fabric. The researchers also provided recommendations on how to reduce fear of crime among the population based on their findings. These recommendations are worth looking at and adopted for the recommendations of this study which will be made after the analysis of data.
Warr (2000) claims that the fear of crime affects Americans more than actual crimes. This is a rather bold claim, which he backs with arguments derived from data and literature on fear of crime in the United States. Warr’s article shows the seriousness of the fear of crime and why it should be addressed in terms of policy and increasing awareness among citizens on how to become more critical on how they watch TV and accept various messages from media, especially those that concern crime and violence.
Warr also provided several research directions which are badly needed in the United States at this time. These areas of policy research would also benefit other countries, especially at the time that media is expanding from being present only in radio, print and TV to the increasing popularity of video games, the Internet and other forms of mobile media. Although there are already numerous research studies on fear of crime, it will not become an obsolete topic given the present-day state of the world.
Box, S, Hale, C & Andrews, G. (1988). Explaining Fear of Crime. The British Journal of Criminology, 28: 340-356.
Chiricos, T., Eschholz, S. & Gertz, M. (1997). Crime, News and Fear of Crime: Toward an Identification of Audience Effects. Social Problems, 44(3), 342-357.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1986). Living with television: The dynamics of the cultivation process. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds), Perspectives on media effects (pp. 17-40). Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Miller, K. (2005). Communications theories: perspectives, processes, and contexts. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Perkins, DD & Taylor, RB (1996). Ecological assessments of community disorder: Their relationship to fear of crime and theoretical implications. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24 (1),63-107.
Romer, D, Jamieson, KH & Aday, S. (2006). Television News and the Cultivation of Fear of Crime. Journal of Communication, 53 (1), 88-104.
Schlesinger, P & Tumber, H (1994). Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of Criminal Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Skogan, WG, & Maxfield, MG (1981). Coping With Crime – Individual and Neighbourhood Reactions. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Warr, M. (2000). Fear of Crime in the United States: Avenues for Research and Policy. Criminal Justice 2000, 4: 452-489.
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