Representations Of Policing In Media Writing Sample

Representations of Policing in the Canadian Media.

            Media plays an indispensable role in entertaining people, providing information and spreading knowledge in the modern society.  Most people, both young and old in the contemporary society are exposed to at least one form of media.  The term media here is all inclusive of both electronic and print media.  Print media mostly refers to written information in form of newspapers, magazines and articles, while electronic media refers to television, radio and films.  Recently, computer technology has brought other variants such as video and internet media which have presented faster forms of information transfer.  Television is arguably the largest form of media and it provides an easy way of spreading information since it is widely accessible by the public.  Media reports thus play a big role in shaping, influencing and framing the public perception of different issues affecting the world today.

            In Canada, there has been much debate on how media affects the public view on policing and law enforcement in the country.  Many people have argued that media has the potential of influencing people’s beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors towards policing as well as influencing the course of criminal court cases in Canada.  With some calls for censorship as a means of controlling media, a great struggle exists between balancing the control of media and the public right to freedom of speech and expression.  However, in order to understand best how to control media reports on policing, it is important to first understand how accurate or inaccurate are the media representations of Canadian policing.

This research paper is thus highly important as it seeks to establish whether the Canadian media accurately represents policing in the country and it also provides detailed examples to show why or why not.  The paper mainly supports the argument that, there is a lot of misrepresentation of policing in the Canadian media which highly affects public perception of crime, police work and policing in general.

Policing in Canada.

            Policing in Canada is a highly dynamic and multi factorial industry where many law enforcing organizations work together to ensure safety for all Canadians (Cooley, 2005).  In a country which is known to be highly multi-cultural and bilingual, most Canadian police organizations are highly diverse and nuanced beyond the image created by the red coated RCMP police officers.   Canadian police forces have never subscribed to any particular policing principles but the rules and principles they follow are more or less similar to those of the British police forces.

            The complexity of Canadian policing emanates from the highly integrated police organizational framework.  First of all, there are three main levels of police forces which comprise of the municipal level, provincial level and the federal level (Curt, 2008).  Each of this police organizations have individual jurisdictions which govern their law enforcement operations.  Law enforcement in Canada is perceived to be the sole responsibility of the provincial level police force.  Most urban areas have been given the authority by the provincial police force to maintain their own local police forces.  Moreover, small municipalities often contract the provincial police force to maintain law and order within the municipality, while larger municipalities have their own independent police forces.

            All provinces have in turn contracted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which is a federal police force, for all their provincial law enforcement duties.  There are also a few private police forces which posses same powers as those of the federal police forces.  For instance, the Canadian Pacific railways has its own police force which helps to prevent any illegal transit of goods on the rail system as well as guarding the railways from any crime threat.

            Policing in Canada and most other western democracies can be classified into two major aspects.  These two aspects according to Forcese (1999) include; the macro and the micro levels.  These two levels are used to analyze Canadian policing from both a neo-Marxist perspective and from an interactionist perspective.  The macro-level approach suggests that, policing is an institution which is used by the elite individuals in the society to protect their own personal interests hence reinforcing the aspect of social stratification.  On the other hand, the micro-level approach suggests that, police officers represent a group of individuals who are faced with one of the most difficult and demanding societal tasks which exposes them to significant psychological expenses.

            Based on these two aspects of Canadian policing, it is clear that whether police officers put too much or too little efforts in law enforcement, they are still faced by severe criticisms especially from media and the larger public.  This criticisms mainly emanate from the negative image and stereotypes created by various media reports regarding police relationships with the public, crime and criminal activities in the society, the role of police in law enforcement, excessive use of force by the law enforcers, racial profiling and the issue of policing in general.

Media representation of policing.

            Whether related to the overall nature of policing, the perceived extensive use of force by the police, or the overall media representation of police work, policing in Canada is an issue which has been widely studied, debated, criticized and evaluated in many ways.  Media reports have been accused of exaggerating the level and extent of crime in the society as well as over representing policing in Canada.  There is a clear trend of criticism and exaggeration in law enforcement in terms of justice, honesty and effectiveness of the Canadian police force.

            Apart from having a great impact on shaping the public concept of crime and police force, media portrays many pictures in matters pertaining to law enforcement in Canada (Greene, 2006).  When experiences of individuals or public offenders are reflected in the media, they are bound to trigger a big social issue.  In this case, media representation of law enforcement news play a crucial role in the transformation of private matters into public issues.  Media often frames particular crime rates to fit into certain situations or to explain certain happenings (Reiner, 2002).  For example, media emphasizes on reports covering crime investigations, prosecutions and administration of sentences especially those involving the minority groups of Canadians.  On the contrary, such framed reports rarely focus on the positive aspects of policing such as effective drug rehabilitation, proper weapon control, social equities and so forth.  This biased media framing results in what is commonly known as the ‘super-predator’ script (Gilliam & Iyengar, 1998).

            A super-predator script refers to the outrage directed towards a certain minority group in the society which results from the negative representations of that particular group in the media.  This super-predator frame affects the public perception on how police force is used extensively against members of one ethnic group and not another.  According to Gilliam (1998), certain visual reports which portray incidences of how suspects from a particular ethnic group are harassed by the police tend to create a negative picture on the public.  This  is the main reason why police officers are constantly viewed as ruthless people who are biased against the minority groups in Canada.

Media representations of crime.

            There has been a wide spread notion that media provides a ready coverage of various crime issues all over the world.  Different surveys in Canada show that, television is particularly a favorite source of reliable information concerning crime rates and how law enforcers deal with different forms of crime prevalent in the society today (Reiner, 2002).  However, many people have expressed concern on how media covers crime with most people especially those in the police force arguing that, media has a way of distorting and exaggerating the actual level of crime in the society.

            Major concerns are especially focused on the terseness of media reports, the extent of visual images portrayed from crime scenes and the degree of selectivity in media coverage.  Most people have argued that such misrepresentations of policing are bound to negatively affect the public attitude in issues concerning the extent and nature of crime in the society, major perpetrators of crime and the response of police force to crime.  For instance, most media reports are likely to coerce the public into the belief that, the rate of drug related crime in Canada is mainly perpetrated by a certain group of people in the society or that police officers are biased when dealing with African Canadians caught engaging in criminal activities.  However, all these are just negative stereotypes created by the media against Canadian police forces.

            The question of whether media accurately reports real crime news is highly debatable.  Previous studies carried out on the relationship between data presented by the media and actual crime data in Canada have shown that, statistical data presented by the media differs widely from the official crime statistics.  Haggerty (2001) argues that, there is substantial amount of statistical variation between the amount of crime covered in the media and that happening in real life.  However, this variation differs with time, place among other variables.  For instance, when a certain crime happens, the media is quick to report it even without actual data but as time goes by, journalists are likely to access more information on that particular crime hence giving more actual statistics.

            Some contemporary studies have shown that, media reports tend to over represent crime and acts of violence thus making non-violent crime appear violent and dangerous.  According to these studies, media reports often exaggerate certain criminal activities such as homicides, kidnapping, terrorism threats, armed robbery and sieges.  At the same time, young people are often depicted as the major perpetrators of crime while children, women and elderly people are over represented as the main victims of crime.  This media misrepresentation of crime is quite wrong since for instance, despite there being a wide media focus on criminal activities committed by the youth in the last ten years or so, actual statistics show that juvenile crime has only increased by less than 5 percent during this period (Erickson, Barenek & Chan, 2001).

            This shows that, media reports on crime are highly inaccurate and if viewers get coerced to believe them, they are likely to arrive into the wrong conclusions and estimates concerning the actual level and extent of crime in Canada.

Media representation of police work.

            Police managers in Canada feel that media tends to focus too much on organized crime activities which involve violence with the aim of portraying the police force as unable to contain the level of crime in the society (Reiner, 2002).  Due to the great emphasis laid on violent crimes and sensationalism, other criminal activities such as money laundering, fraud and economic embezzlement are often underplayed or misrepresented by the media.              However, police managers appreciate the fact that law enforcement operations, investigations, trials and justice interventions have been receiving relatively adequate amount of media coverage.  In fact, most media reports have been found to generally create a positive image on the integrity and success of police force and the Canadian criminal justice system (Leishman & Mason, 2003).

            Nevertheless, the police use of excess force as portrayed in the media has triggered many negative public opinions regarding the Canada police force.  As in the US, Canadian policing has been criticized for some highly publicized cases of police shootings in Ontario and Quebec with numerous claims of racial discrimination within the police force.  Examples of this cases include; the Dudley George case, Buddy Evans case and the Marlon Neal case, just to name a few (Frances & Tator, 2002).

            However, regardless of the extensive media coverage of cases showing that Canadian police usually use excess force when dealing with racial minorities than when dealing with the whites, no substantial amount of empirical data has been obtained in this particular area of study.  This lack of data has made the Canadian police to allege that most claims of racial discrimination and use of excessive force are just part of media misrepresentation of police force.

How media represents racial profiling.

            Racial profiling which is closely related to the issue of racial discrimination in policing is one issue where most police officers in Canada feel they are highly misrepresented.  In policing, racial profiling refers to the act of taking into account the race of a particular suspect when carrying out criminal investigations and enforcing law. Racial profiling has been quite prevalent in media reports and news lately.  Unlike in the US where cases of racial discrimination and profiling have been around since time immemorial, media coverage of racial profiling in Canada only became prevalent after the September 11 attacks in US.

            Some of media reports which have portrayed racial profiling in Canada include a National Post newspaper article entitled Profiles in Prudence published in September 2001 which covered a scenario whereby, Arab Canadians were being subjected to racial profiling by police officers at an airport in Canada.  Since the September 11 attacks, most Arab Canadians have reportedly been subjected to physical harassments by police officers who accuse them of being terrorist suspects (Harris, 2002).  Other media reports have also shown cases where police officers harass drivers from ethnic minority groups holding them ransom in places where white drivers are allowed to freely pass.

            While some of these accusations of racial profiling may be true, it is clear that media representation of cases of racial profiling provide exaggerated and distorted reports which often mislead the public.  By over emphasizing cases of racial profiling in Canada, most minority groups are now scared of dealing with the police for fear of being discriminated against on the basis of their skin color of ethnic background.

Conclusion.

            Despite the scarcity of empirical data in media representation of Canadian policing, the fact that media reports provide distorted information on various parts of policing is well founded.  Being a primary source of public information, any misrepresentation of policing information in media reports confers a great impact on the larger public.  This is the main reason why there is a lot of misperception in the Canadian community regarding the level and extent of crime in the community, as well as how the police force deals with various acts of enforcing law in the community.

            Media misrepresentations have played a great role in shaping the public views on policing.  Though the impacts of such misrepresentations are quite negative in regard to Canadian policing, the effects are not all negative.  For instance, due to the fear of media misrepresentation, the police unit has been keen on doing a splendid job in their duty of protecting the citizens making sure to avoid cases on racial discrimination or negligence.  This is a positive effect of media as it has translated into a more responsible police force.

            According to the discussion above, it can concluded that most media reports are primarily concerned with making news interesting and captivating for the viewers in the case of electronic media or readers in the case of print media instead of providing accurate reports.  As a result, policing in Canada has been highly misrepresented in the media which reflects wrong statistical crime data and portrays the police force as corrupt and biased against African Canadian and other minority groups.

Future research.

            While a lot has been done on the media representation of policing in Canada and other countries all over the world, researchers are now shifting their attention towards seeking the development of models aimed at explain the selective nature of media reports on crime, law enforcement and other policing issues.  Most of the reviewed research studies have deeply studied the impact of media on Canadian policing mainly dwelling on media reports and news.  This paper has also found that, presentation of crime in fictional programs such as police dramas and thrillers have become very prominent in the recent past, a fact which has been attributed to the new technological innovations round the globe.  However, there is limited research on the impact of such fictional dramas and how their portrayal of crime and police work is bound to affect the public perception of policing.  This is an area which needs research and proper analysis in future.

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References.

Cooley, D. (2005). Re-imagining Policing in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Curt, T. Griffiths. (2008). Canadian Police Work (2nd ed). Toronto: Thomson Nelson.

Ericson, R., Barenek, P., & Chan, J. (2001). Representing order: crime, law and justice in the     news media. Toronto: Open University Press.

Frances, H., & Tator, C. (2002). Discourses of Domination: Racial Bias in the Canadian            English-Language Press. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Forcese, D. (1999). Policing Canadian Society (2nd ed.). Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall.

Gittings, C. (2002). Canadian National Cinema: Ideology, Difference and Representation.         Routledge.

Gilliam, F.D., & Iyengar, S. (1998). The super-predator script. Nieman Reports, 52, 45-46.

Greene, J. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Police Science. CRC Press.

Harris, David A. (2002). Flying While Arab: Immigration Issues, and Lessons from the   Racial Profiling Controversy. The New Press.

Haggerty, L. (2001). The Organization and Critique of Crime Statistics. The Canadian Center    for Justice Statistics.

Leishman, F., & Mason, P. (2003). Policing and the Media: Facts, Fictions and Factions.           Willan Publishers.

National Post Editorial . (2001). Profiles in Prudence. Retrieved on 12 November, from, <<http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/EditorialReviews/erev200109/20010929editorialreview.html>>

Reiner, R. (2002). Media made criminality: The representation of crime in the mass media.         The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 302-340.

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

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).

Methodology

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 analyzing 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.

Data 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.

Ethical Considerations

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 Tallahassee, 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 neighborhood 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.

Reference

  • 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.

Media Coverage On Youth Crime Perception

Abstract

            This research study looks into public misconception on the extent and nature of the increased rate of youth crime and the youth justice system, and the way such misconception respond to youthful offending.  Various misconceptions have been identified concerning youth crimes in Canada.  It has been shown that, the public is made to believe that there is a drastic increase on youth crime.  The belief of the public has been mainly based on the number of statics availed by the media.  The availed official statistics in respect to the extent and nature of youth crime, have shown that the public conception about the rapid increase on youth crime is not supported by the available official data.

              Reasons for such kind of discrepancy between the available official statistics and public conceptions with regard to youth crime and the youth justice system have been explored.  The key role of the media in the shaping of public attitude has been addressed in this study.  The negative effects which arise from public misconceptions with regard to youth crime are explored.  Among the negative effects of public misconception of youth crime, is making of unnecessary changes on the legislation, public intolerance, and making of inappropriate programs for young offenders.

            The paper makes conclusive suggestions which are intended to bridge the gap between the official statistics and the public misconception.  Among the recommendations given, it has been suggested that the media should be given proper information about the youth justice system, the public should also be enlightened about the criminal justice system.  It has also been suggested that fears that are associated with youth crime should be acknowledged and adequately addressed.

Introduction

            The young offenders Act of 1984 was put in place to reconcile various issues of accountability and responsibility with regard to the young offenders.  According to Gates (2004), a wide coverage of by the media with regard to youth crime has led many people to believe and conclude that the applicable policies provided under the Act are not efficient, by showing that youth crimes are increasing day by day both in seriousness of crime, and in number.  In fact, the issue of youth crime in Canada has led to a growing public concern due to the realization that the number of youth crime is increasing and getting out of control by the youth justice system, many people are therefore calling for the imposition of harsher policies to deal with youth crime.

            This paper considers the degree and the extent in which members of the public feel the impact of youth crime problem, and the popularity of the tendency for criminals to get a tough mentality.  The paper will also look into trends of youth crime, and disposition of cases in youth courts will be examined.  It will clearly be shown that, the media reports on the increased number of crimes, and the seriousness of such crime is not supported by the available official data (Sprott, 2004).

            The Level of Youth Crime Control Based on Both Medial and Official Statistics

            Looking at the content and number of media reports with regard to youth crimes, is has been shown that the media has made members of the public to believe that youth crime have increased both in nature of IN seriousness of crime.  According to Crawford (2005), the media mislead members of the public by reporting for instance a homicide event which occurs once, in an exaggerated manner, such that people are often confused and made to believe that several events of homicide occurred between different youths.  From a research study conducted in the University of Ottawa, it is roughly only one person who gets charged for homicide cases in a period of ten days, but the regular reports by the media make most people believe that there is an increase in serious youth crimes.

The Statistics

            According to Howard (2006), trends in the seriousness and frequency of youth crime have been charted from statistics available at the Canadian Center for Justice reports.  Such charts are made by looking at the number of young offenders within the age of 12-17 years,  who face criminal charges.  This is also done by looking at the number of cases which may have been processed in the youth court.  The available statistics clearly show that there has been an increase in the number of youth crime between the period of 1986-1987, and the period between 1992-1993.  In the previous period, number of youth crimes increased to 27% while the later period had youth crimes increase by 32%.  These figures were arrived at by looking at the number of cases heard in court.

            Though the media may be correct when reporting such an increase, it fails to consider important factors.  To begin with, it is important to note that the increase in the number of youth crimes may have been influenced by important factors, such as the a general population increase on the number of youths in Canada.  It is also important to note that from the 81% charges in court, 27% consist of administrative offenses such as failure to comply with probation, or failure to appear before the court, or failure to complete the requirement of community service orders within the required time.  Such offenses may often represent a quarter of any offenses reported in a certain period of time.

            Crawford (2005) posited that while the media comes out to report, they do not provide clear information on the statistics available.  Instead, they emphasize that the crimes reported are of serious nature.  This has been a misleading area causing many of the people to believe that youth crime is increasing at a high rate while this is not true.

            From the available official statistics, while the rate of youth crime was on the increase between 1986-1987, and 1992-1993, the number has not continued increasing since then.  The caseload in most courts has generally decreased by 6.5%.  In the recent years, the official statistics show that the general case rate has gone down.  On the other hand, the case rate for violent crimes has been on the increasing as the statics indicate 3.5% increase, the drug caseload has perhaps been the worst affected with a great increase of 103.1% (Fulton& Fisher, 2005).

            From a speculation done on youth crimes in Toronto, it has been shown that school crimes are a reflection of the policy on zero tolerance, that is applied on most youth practices in Toronto.  It is said that any disruptive offenses happening in schools get reported to the police officers instead of being dealt with by the school administrators.  From the local studies, no identifiable trend of youth crime rates can clearly be compared to the national statistics.  The local studies do not also support the report by the media on the increased rate of youth crime.

            Conclusions With Regard to Increases in Youth Crime

            Looking at the reports given by the media while compared with official statistics, the media has not been accurate in reporting the increase on youth crime.  The media has also not been able to show the category of crimes that have gone up, and those that have reduced.  If the media were to do a good job for instance, they should have specified that the general numbers of criminal caseloads have reduced, that the crime category which has been on a high increase in Canada is drug abuse, followed by violent crimes (Collins, 2003).

            It is also not true for the media to report that youths in Canada are currently committing more crimes than they used to do in the past.  The media in both the national and localized levels has influenced the growing public collection and intolerance differences.  The official data available in Canada portrays that the increase in youth crime is equivalent to the population increase on the youth in Canada.  The media has failed to show this.

Role of the Media in Reporting Youth Crime

            Many scholars who study the juvenile justice system have accepted that the media is greatly to blame for the public perception regarding criminal justice issues.  From a research carried out by the Canadian Sentencing Commission, 800 newspapers were studied in Canada, and it was found out that more than half of the criminal cases reported there contained criminal elements, while a quarter of the cases were on homicide.  Owen (2004) asserts that this is a clear show that the media over represents violent crimes, given that violent crimes comprise only 11% of all crimes in the Canadian Criminal Court of Justice.  Studies have shown that, when editors of these newspapers are questioned, they agree that they concentrate in reporting crimes that are of serious nature as opposed to less serious crimes.

            On rare occasions that reporters give information with regard to sentencing, no maximum or minimum penalties for specific offenses have been reported.  Furthermore, the media only reports on cases which appear to have been given lenient punishments, with the intention of portraying that the Young Offenders Act, or that the youth criminal justice system is inefficient in dealing with youth crime.

            With respect to youth offenders, researchers have shown that the media typically shows that youth activity of any kind is negative, and sensationalizes on rare incidents of youth violence by undertaking to report them repeatedly on several occasions.  (Owen (2004) took a sample of three newspapers in Toronto and found that wholly 94% of stories reported on youth crime involved violent offenses.  In reality, less than 25% of courts dealing with youths in Ontario cases involve violent crimes.  On the other hand, the media wholly discount or ignores acts of violence committed by adults, which are in fact more frequent than those of the youth.  This has led to the show of a chronic youth crime problem, which is exaggerated by the lenient Young Offenders Act as the media portray it, through the prohibition of identity of the young offenders to the public.

            According to Carrington (2003) this leaves one with the desire that the public would get good information on issues touching the criminal justice, so that the public can be in a position to recognize when the media is biased and when it is neutral in its reports.  In one research study however, the media was referred to as the primary source of information for the criminal justice system among 95% of researchers who were surveying the criminal justice system in Canada.  Other studies have also shown that the public rely to a large extent on the information provided by the media in concluding the efficiency or shortcomings of the youth criminal justice system in Canada.  The result of such reliance of information by the public on the media for criminal justice information, has been established from polls which test public knowledge of the criminal justice system.

            From the public response, members of the community consistently do an overestimation of the proportion of crimes which have an element of violence, while compared with all crimes generally.  When asked for the minimum or maximum incarceration and sentencing rates for certain offenses, most people responded by stating underestimating both.  Finally, public members who gave most inaccurate responses, such as exaggerating  violent crimes and underestimating the priority given by the court while deciding on sentencing options, these people mainly rely on the media reports as a means for criminal justice information.  Though many people are aware that the media limits its coverage to rare and important events, this however does not adequately influence their perception of youth crime rates.

            The opinion of the public has over a long period of time been heavily influenced by the media.  The media choose to publish those stories which most of the time invoke the feeling of anger and retribution to the members of the public (McDonald, 2003).  The consequence is that most legislatives are often tampered with in the attempt to enforce harsher measures of dealing with the youth.  In the recent past, the effort by the media to favor youthful offending serves to provide and reinforce added momentum for the implementation of tough measures to deal with the youth.  Such measures would in fact serve to cause anger and fear among members of the public, and to discourage their trust in regard to the criminal justice system.

Consequences of False Public Perceptions

            The effects of misleading information by the media may often lead to intolerance results from attitudes on the punitive system.  For instance, this may lead to individual coming together to form a strong opposition against the criminal justice system, by formation of lobby groups, or other campaign organizations.  This also leads to individuals’ reaction to the behavior of the youth which is seen as undesirable.  Misconception leads to heightened police intervention to even minor offenses, and leads to increased rates of charges for even those cases which can be resolved through informal means.

            The false increase of youth crime reported by the media, has fueled anger among the public and a call for immediate action.  In response, most judges have been more punitive to the youth, and the politicians have been compelled to make unnecessary changes on youth crime laws.  This leads to some youths facing unnecessary punitive measures for even minor offenses.  The government way of responding to public misconception is shown through reforms done on the Youth Offenses Act, recently passed by the federal government.

            Public misconception can have negative effects on the available programing choices.  A public which looks at the justice system as too lenient to deal with the apparent problem, or perceives a great increase on the youth crime, may end up demanding for tougher measures to deal with young offenders.

Conclusion and Recommendations.

            From the above discussion, the media has played the major role of misleading  members of the public on youth crime rates, both on the general increase and an increase as to the seriousness of a crime.  Such misconception by the public has critical consequences, including the need to keep changing youth crime laws, calling for unnecessary police intervention on youth activities, and the imposition of harsh measures while dealing with youth crimes (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004).

            The major tool through which the problem of public misconception can be solved is through dissemination of accurate crime statistics.  Persons who deal with such statistics should often make sure that such statistics are presented to the public, so as to show the public the real figures on crime rates.  This will help the public know when the media is reporting the correct information, and when it gets biased.

            The government should also put in place policies and programs to enlighten the public on the role and efficiency of the youth justice system, as well as informing the public about the accurate crime rates to help solve the misconception problem facing the public.  It has been shown that, people who are well informed about criminal justice issues have less convictions and more rational perceptions as compared to those who have limited knowledge (Crawford, 2005).

References

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (2004). The Justice data fact finder. Juristat         17(13). Blanchfield, M. (1994, December 24). ‘Ignorance’ behind push for action on           teen Crime Youth advocates want. Ottawa Citizen. New York: Cambridge University  Press.

Carrington, P. (2003). Has violent youth crime increased? Comment on Conrado and     Markwart. Canadian Journal of Criminology. Published by Willan Publishing.

Collins, R. (2003). Youth crime feared. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Crawford, T. (2005). Crime erupting in classrooms. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth / Thomson          Learning.   New York:  McGraw Publishers.

Fulton, E., & Fisher, L. (2005). The young offenders. New York: Aldine de Gruyter      Publishers.

Gates, R. (2004). Youth crime: are jails and work camps the solution? Ottawa: Solicitor             General.

John Howard Society of Ontario. (2006). Youth crime and our response: An update. New         York:  McGraw Publishers.

McDonald, M. (2003). The perception gap: Despite what crime experts say demands for            harsher penalties are growing louder. Ottawa: Justice Canada Press.

Owen P. (2004). The downside of zero tolerance: Ontario locks up more kids than any other      province; it doesn’t seem to be helping. Willan Publishing.

Sprott, J. (2004). Understanding public views of youth crime and the youth justice system.        Canadian Journal of Criminology.Ottawa: Justice Canada Press.

 

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