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This content is taken from the University of York's online course, From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds One way in which as a society we come to understand crime and criminal justice is through encountering, consuming and thinking about representations and images of crime in the media and in culture more broadly. The way that issues around crime and criminal justice are reported in news is interesting. The question we might ask instinctively is whether the ways in which crime is reported correspond with the ‘reality’ of crime ‘out there’ in the world. Now, that question presupposes that there is an objective reality of crime out there - and not everybody would accept that, as there is plenty of good argument to be had about what ‘crime’ itself actually is.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds And, even if we settle for a possibly rather narrow definition of crime - that behaviour which amounts to a breach of the criminal law – we don’t know with a great degree of certainty how much crime there actually is. But we can ask some important questions about the way crime is reported, and in order to do that, we have to recognise that we can’t separate the idea of ‘newsworthiness’ about crime from newsworthiness more generally. The reporting of any issue in any publication will be informed by a number of related questions –what kind of ‘news’ does this publication deem worthy of inclusion or focus? Who are the readers? Does the publication have any political alignment?

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds How do these questions impact on the decision to run a story, and on how it is presented? When we look at any media representation of crime, it is worth thinking about why it has been selected for publication, why it has been deemed newsworthy. We can be thinking about how the selection and presentation of the news item reflects the underlying editorial priorities of the publication in question. Among the most interesting questions to think about – even though it can’t really be answered thoroughly – is what crime ‘stories’ have not been reported?

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds So, consider how the ways in which crime news is selected and constructed give us a false account of crime - Does crime news disproportionately emphasise certain types of crime, or certain types of offender? Does it conform to and reinforce stereotypes about offending behaviour and communities and places? Does it sensationalise? And does it allow for other types of offending behaviour to go underreported? And, do all of these issues about how crime is reported affect how we think it should be addressed? Because if they do, then the partial and incomplete picture of crime that we get from the media can be misleading in terms of how it might guide criminal justice policy.

Representations of Crime

We are going to think about how ‘crime’ is represented in culture and the media, with particular reference to the question of whether those representations of crime correspond to some kind of objective reality out there in the world.

To start us off, in this video I discuss some issues to do with representations of crime. While you watch it, you could reflect on the representations of crime which you have encountered recently in the news, or in culture more broadly, (for example in TV drama, in film or in reading fiction).

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This video is from the free online course:

From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

University of York