The media’s portrayal of crime affects the public’s perception of crime in one way or the other. In other words, the media channels knowledge on justice and crime to the public. The media therefore influences the media consumption of information and fear of crime, which ends up coming with punitive attitudes and the effectiveness of crime control.
There are various results in connection to the linkage of news media and public’s fear of crime. Earlier, some studies hypothesized that viewing of television, for example, comes with more induced fear than aggression. Individuals who watch incidences of crime on television are more likely to develop a fear for that particular crime. They end up feeling threatened by the crime and may even go to an extent of taking precautions against the crime. They find the crime shown on television as more random, dangerous and violent more than the one in the ‘real’ world. Viewers more often than not develop depictions in their minds regarding the images they watched and develop a ‘cruel world outlook.’ The outlook is then characterized by cynicism, alienation, mistrust and perceptions of a higher-than-normal danger of crime in the society (Meško et al., 2009).
Studies also show that viewing of television and fear goes hand in hand and possesses a very strong relationship. However, the linkage between fear and media presentation is dependent on characteristics of the audience and the message. For instance, presentation of excess news concerning crime triggers fear in the public. On the other hand, presentation of news that regard less crime makes the public have less fear and feel safer. Therefore, residents who reside in areas that are more prone to crime end up having fears based on their local news than those who live in less prone crime areas.
In terms of effects, the fear of victimization entirely depends on the one viewing the crimes or the crime stories. Additionally, it also depends on whether the audience member has a direct experience concerning crime, especially as a victim. When direct experience is lacking, then media sources end up becoming more meaningful (Wright, 1978).
Media influence on an individual also depends on social groups. For instance, media pressure is greatest on whites, female and the elderly as reported by former studies. Incongruously enough, these are the very segments of the social grouping that are less likely to get victimized.
The frequency of watching or listening to news also has an effect on crime. Studies estimated that frequent news consumption on television is mostly influential on white females aged 30 to 44. Similar findings show that frequent consumption of media crime news affects mostly whites and women (Madriz, 1997). Males and non-whites on the other hand, have low risk of vulnerability.
Public’s fear to crime connects to people’s pressure to solve problems related to crime. Presentations of more crime news therefore contribute to people’s policing concerning crime occurrence in the society. Resultantly, an individual’s behavior can be affected by media’s induced fear of crime. As well known, any individual is potentially vulnerable to crime. In this, there are two types of vulnerabilities namely, personal vulnerability and social vulnerability.
Personal vulnerability mostly applies to members of particular social groups. Such people feel that they are more vulnerable to victimization. These people are mostly those who have been disadvantaged by various factors in the society. As such, these individuals after being induced to fear, change their behaviors in terms of avoiding crime and crime prone areas.
Even more, those who are involved in crime or those that intend to participate in crime, when introduced to fear of crime by the media could change their behavior towards a positive direction. Even though it rarely happens, an individual could see the repercussions of involving oneself in certain crimes and consequently alter their behavior for the better. Instances of fear of crime transforming the behavior of individuals have been evidenced in former studies where criminals modified their behavior under the grounds of personal safety.
Fear of crime, therefore, could serve a positive purpose by modifying the behaviors of individuals. However, some limits need not to be bypassed as extreme fear of crime comes with negativity. A lot of fear for crime can bring forth behavior disorders to various vulnerable members of the public. Accordingly, the media should be responsible on how it portrays crime in the various media arenas. There should be boundaries of crime portrayal to cater for all individuals in the society.
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