Mass Media and Public Attitude to Crime in Britain

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An Objective inquiry by Dr. Ignatius Gwanmesia into the importance of the influence of the mass media on our attitude to crime.


The British crime phobia “in part generated by sensationalist media coverage”, Kirsta (2001, p. 5); the corresponding prioritisation of crime-related debates in most party manifestos, Brand and Price, (2000, p. i); the reciprocal investigations into the impact of media messages on crime attitudes are justified on the reality that “every seconds somewhere in Britain a crime is being committed, and popular newspapers outbid one another to present ever more sensationally lurid coverage of muggings, murders and rapes” Kirsta, (1988, p. 4). While prevailing circumstances may give the impression of a crime epidemic partly due to mass media influence, pinions about direct correlates are not only polarised but problematic in validity and reliability. In analysing the mass media influence on public attitude to crime, I will start by defining ‘mass media’ and ‘crime’. Then, using the television, the newspapers and films as my mass media typologies, I will concurrently critically analyse prevailing opinions on how they impact on public attitude to crime. While the appraisal will evaluate prevailing debates, the conclusion will be a résumé of dialogues developed exclusively within the essay. Based on the Harvard model, the bibliography will alphabetically credit citations made within the discourse.


Mass media denotes, “the methods and organization used by special social groups to convey messages to large, socially mixed and widely dispersed audiences” Trowler, (2001, p. 1). The television, newspapers, radio, cinema, mobile phones, films etc are mass media instruments employed in encoding and disseminating messages. Crime denotes “an action or omission which constitute an offence and is punishable by law” Pearsall, (1998, p. 434). The Mass media attitude-influencing debate

With television as the typology, Allen, (1994, p. 37) cites the hitherto belief that “the camera never lies” to emphasise the trust or reality that majority of the public attaches to mass media messages. From a semiotic and structural perspective, Robert Allen goes on to emphasise that while mass media information are “partial, motivated, conventional and biased” (p. 38), people simply receive them as ”pure information, as an unmediated signifier”. While this tendency and the lack of media literacy may collude to accord consensus to “the power-wielding ability of the press to instigate public hysteria on crime”, Banks, (2001, p. 17); Trowler, (2001), the correlate between the mass media messages and crime is not only highly contentious but is a factor of a myriad of variables; age, Gunter, (1987); social class, Gray, (1992); gender, Gunter, (1995); race and ethnicity, Gillespie, (1995) and media literacy, Buckingham, (1993b). With television, the newspapers and films as typologies, the medical model perceives the mass media as the syringe, the message as what is injected and the audience as the patient. Accordingly, the influence of the media on our attitudes to crime is a factor of dosage, (the quantity, frequency and extent of exposure to mass media socialisation, Allen, (1994, p. 37); and the resilience, (audience’s selective ability rather than passive attitude to media messages). However, irrespective of our resilience, “prolonged exposure to biased media message will eventually impact on our attitudes to crime.” Lazarsfeld et al., (1948). Some sociologists assert that, “the hypnotic power of the mass media deprives us of the capacity for critical thought.” Marcuse, (1972). This is acute within contemporary techno-globalised society where audiences are incessantly bombarded with crime details or crime-explicit films....
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