After choosing a total of four articles this workbook will critically compare and evaluate how the media represents offenders, the Criminal Justice System, victims and the crime. It will then analyse whether film and television cause people to commit crimes and if media news increases people’s’ fear of crime. In terms of finding stories worth reporting and that will sell, the media rely extensively on crime. One crime that made it very quickly to the news was the murders committed by Stephen Griffiths.
Article one, from the guardian in 2011, straight away makes an assumption about Griffiths, relating to Cornish and Clarke’s’ Rational Choice Theory, the title of the article reads, ‘Crossbow Cannibal: He killed because it was easy’, this being the very first thing they would see, some readers may interpret this into believing he was a mentally healthy man and had no other reasons for carrying out the murders other than that, he chose to, when this in fact may not be the case.
Article one also contains a very detailed interview with two local prostitutes from Bradford’s red-light district, explaining the setup of the red-light district and how it was the perfect choice for Griffiths as there are no pimps, and no woman that will not go home with ‘absolutely anyone’ due to their severe drug addictions, again suggesting that he made strategic choices before committing the murders.
Article two, from the daily mail in 2010, continuously refers to Griffiths’ mental health history saying, ‘Between 1987 and 2009 he was treated by psychiatrists at three different hospitals’ and at a different point in the article saying, ‘seemingly his mental illness did not set alarm bells ringing’, this gives readers a much wider insight to why Griffiths did what he did, and paints him as a man who has an illness not just a simple murderer.
Article two also makes reference to Griffiths’ obsession with books on the Moors murderers, Jack the Ripper and his ‘idol’, Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, who also murdered prostitutes, this further deters the reader from thinking he had no additional influences. Both articles focus mainly on failures within the Criminal Justice System. Article one states that the Bradford red-light district is not sufficiently CCTV monitored, leaving the women working there vulnerable to assaults and rapes they could not prove.
The article also briefly mentions that there is no law on prostitution but a law on working in a brothel, forcing the women to go out on the streets alone putting them in even more danger. Article two points out how the police failed to identify Griffiths as someone fairly new to the area, known as a ‘violent loner’ with history of mental health problems, shoplifting, harassment and two offences with a knife, which left him in a young offenders’ institution for three years and then in prison for two years in 1992.
Without the help of a caretaker doing his routine CCTV checks, the police may have never caught Griffiths. The way the media portray the Criminal Justice System has predominantly affected the way the public sees the police, they encourage the public to have little to no faith in the police, magnifying certain situations that exaggerate the incompetence of all police forces, this is because negative stories attract a larger audience Chibnall (1977) attempts to explain why the media report stories like this, the way they do.
He introduced the 8 professional imperatives that are used to shape a news story, they are, immediacy, dramatisation, personalisation, simplification, titillation, conventionalism, structured access and novelty. He suggests that events must include all of these aspects to meet a specific criteria and be deemed ‘newsworthy’. The media have a certain ‘power’ to completely popularise a crime all over the world, this was the case with the murder of James Bulger.
Article one, from the guardian in 1993, contains a detailed description of the kidnap, torture and killing of two year old James, being so formidable within the first few lines of the article will shock the reader and this is exactly what the reporter is intending to do, they want the reader to really feel outraged for the victim and by stating how his mother was seen on CCTV frantically searching for her son only adds to the animosity.
The article represents James as a bit of a tear-away child saying on several occasions he ran off from his mother and at one point ‘helped himself’ to some sweets at a store, not the perfect little boy he is usually described as. In a further part of the article James is portrayed as not much more than just a mutilated body, the language used seems very apathetic and straight to the point. However article two, from BBC news in 1993, focuses on encouraging the reader to feel grief for the two year old, portraying James as not just a murder victim but a very real person with a family that deserve privacy and respect.
Croall (2011) looked in a thesis called ‘the ideal victim’, in media an ideal victim would be one that would generate a lot of public sympathy, for example, a male in his mid thirties who had been assaulted by another male of a similar age would not get half as much sympathy as an elderly lady who was subject to the exact same assault, the media knows this so they strategically choose the stories they report .
James Bulger fits perfectly within the description of an ideal victim, therefore his murder was reported world wide. Article one goes into great depth when talking about the crime, publicising every last brutal detail. The way the reporter describes the crime as a reader you get the impression it was premeditated and truly horrifying. It seems almost unbelievable that two children could carry out this merciless crime, distressing the viewer.
On the other hand article two pays little attention to the crimes itself, only briefly describing it and using much less severe language, giving the reader limited insight into the true inhumanity of the crime, focusing on influencing the reader to feel sympathy and compassion rather than anger and disgust like article one. Some psychologists suggest that television and films can influence a person to go out and commit offences, this is a branch of copycat crime .
There are cases to suspect that there is a definite link between on screen crime and real life crime, for example Australian serial killer, Martin Bryant, who was a schizophrenic, obsessed with the Chucky films, some research suggests a person’s’ aggression/intention to commit crime could be influenced by television in a much earlier stage of their life Liebert and Baron conducted an experiment in 1972 to measure the willingness a child presented to hurt another after being showed a violent television programme, they could chose to injure the other child by pressing a button which would make a handle they were holding, hot.
Much more children who had seen the violent television programme chose to press the button than those who had not, and at a later the time the children were placed in a room and observed again, this time they were given two types of toys, some normal and some violent, eg- toy weapons etc… Once again the children that had been subjected to the violent television programme shown much stronger desire to play with the violent toys than the other children As a result of studies like this, in 1982 the National Institute of Mental Health established the following three things as severe effects of viewing violence on television, being less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, more fearful of the world around them and behaving in aggressive or harmful ways toward others
The experiment has been criticised due to the lack of ecological validity, for example, the programmes were far to short and not an accurate representation of real television and children will often watch TV with siblings, parents or friends, whose reactions are important to the child’s interpretation of actions in the programme. The researchers have also been criticised for not taking into consideration any other reasons for childhood violence such as genetics, family life, personality type or living area. In spite of these studies, there is no concrete evidence that this is the cause for and violence/crime later in life When a vast majority of the public depend on the media for their main, if not only, source of information on crime, it is no surprise that they can take advantage of this.
According to Left Realists, the media sensationalises crime to create ‘moral panic’ with the aim of controlling how the public behaves It is known that moral panic has been around since World War 1 and continues to be a large part of media presentation today, they rely heavily on stereotypes to achieve moral panic for example, in the 1980’s some media outlets nicknamed HIV/AIDS the ‘gay plague’, this made the public believe that the illness was caused solely by the gay community the same principles apply to crime for example, the media concentrate highly on portraying young, underclass people as violent deviants, although this type of criminal evidently exists, they are no more apparent than criminals of an older age bracket or upperclass
Cultivation theorist, George Gerbner (1977), suggests that the media gradually implement attitudes in its audience that “are more consistent with the world of television programmes than with the everyday world” people who watch a lot of television are likely to be more influenced by the way crime is represented by the programmes and the news, this can create fear of victimisation By overreporting on certain crimes and criminals such as youths and the underclass, the public develop a fear of being victim to these crimes from types of people.
In contrast people can either be in fear of these people or identify with them, relating to Howard Becker’s Labelling theory, if underclass youths are being told they are criminals to be feared, they will start believing the stigma themselves then acting like it In conclusion, it is evident that sensationalism has become deeply rooted in the media, leaving the public with a lack of credible sources of information and the journalists abandoning their ethical standards for the sake of profit.
The media seems to favour television as a way of getting the public to passively absorb the information they are giving out as most people today watch television but most people do not buy newspapers. Also as there are very minimal laws and policies regarding the media, they’re free to write what they want with little to no repercussions. It is highly unlikely that the media will change they way they report, but it is not impossible for the public to make a difference, by reconsidering the resources they go to for information and showing their dissatisfaction with the mass media, the public have the ability to influence the decisions that are made and work toward improvement.