Analysing Media Crime
By Maxwell Pereira

I spent a lifetime in the police department battling crime and bringing criminals to justice. And in the process, necessarily interacting with the media to a considerable extent. Even though this interaction was invariably to try and project the good work the department was putting in, more often it was plain and simple answering media questions or reacting to an incident, crime situation, or a law and order briefing warranted.

The press of course, has its own mind. First hand reporting by the footslogging cub-reporter who is fired by his/her own investigative zeal would invariably attempt at incorporating something in the coverage, which does not find mention in a rival’s report. The race for a scoop invariably ending up with a healthy competition and at times unhealthy one-up-man-ship!

In all these years though, I have wondered whether the different wings of media – the written, the radio and the visual television, ever sit back to analyse their own reportage. Whether they take time off to study the images of crime and the criminal justice system presented by themselves through the major mass media wings within the country. In particular, is sample reportage of crime movies, television crime dramas, plus television news and newspaper crime coverage selected as major sources of data for uncovering how the media portrays the society's struggle with the crime problem!

And wondered more on whether our members of the fourth estate and even the governmental agencies and the academia in the universities have ever endeavoured to understand and analyse the fundamental role played by media in defining what constitutes deviance and criminality in Indian society and made this matter a subject of public debate or research!

Also a crucial aspect is the media's own image of crime. What types of criminal behaviour and criminal offenders does the media focus upon? Comparisons to be made with actual crime statistics to discover whether certain types of criminals or crimes are underrepresented or over-represented by the various media.

Then for example, are minorities and ethnic groups singled out by the media as criminals at a rate higher or lower than their actual participation in crime? Is every Muslim a terrorist, or every Christian to be portrayed as a drunkard or a bar dancer? Or, are "hate crimes" against minority groups given far more exposure than warranted?

Are serious crimes such as murder and rape given exposure at a rate that is so out of proportion to their actual occurrence that the public is unnecessarily alarmed? Is it true that our Indian media is obsessed over rapes to the extent for editors to prompt field reporters to go hunting for rape and sex stories? Has the media in fact created crime panics in such areas as kidnappings, child abductions and child sexual abuse?

Then do we examine the several high profile news stories such as the flagrant violations of laws and byelaws by politicians and the powerful people? Is there an introspection of media trials the accused in India are subjected to -with special emphasis on television and today’s Internet coverage? Has there been any attempt to analyse how the media covers such stories or trials? Is our media also responsible for glorifying dacoits and criminals, to virtually make them super-heroes – to help law-breakers reach Parliament and become lawmakers?

Another issue is the criminal justice system itself. How does media portray the police, the courts and the administration of criminal law, and the Indian correctional (Jail) system? Has the government ever made any attempt to focus on each of these three major components of the justice process? Is there comparison of media images to empirical studies of policing, the adjudication process, and punishments actually delivered?

In addition, the use of new media technologies within the criminal justice system itself. How have technological innovations such as video cameras and multimedia computers changed the criminal justice system? And what about analysis of the impact of the use of ever evolving new and newer technologies? Especially in this age of e-surveillance, telephone-tappings, and a majority of our media having perfected the art of sting operations?

Finally, whether media coverage of crime is in itself a cause of criminal behaviour. Do copycat criminals view portrayals of heinous crimes or new crime techniques in the media and then decide to repeat them? Has the constant emphasis on criminal violence in the media produced an even more violent society? Does repeated exposure to pornographic materials such as magazines and X-rated videotapes lead to additional sex crimes?

Another major issue is whether media portrayals of crime that are accepted by the public make it difficult for a more honest account of the crime problem to be heard. Is reform of the system being impeded by a less than adequate knowledge of the criminal justice process among the public? How can criminology aid in presenting the public with a more realistic understanding of crime? What is the role "newsmaking criminology" has to play in this process?

In recent times, television programs that reveal how police conduct investigations have been accused of teaching criminals how to evade detection. Legal experts find popular drama series and true crime programs give away too much information about how crimes are solved. The phenomenon has been dubbed the "CSI effect" after the American drama Crime Scene Investigation, which shows how a team of police uses forensics to crack cases. Science-savvy criminals have been found using rubber gloves and hairnets to avoid leaving evidence and even planting other people's cigarette butts at crime scenes to throw the law off their trail. And experts fear that the increase in knowledge about police procedures has led to a rise in arson as criminals try to destroy any clues potentially left at crime scenes. Is the study of media aspects of criminology ever going to measure up in our country!

Feb 20, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// and


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