Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Media & Crime - The Magic Bullet - A Critical Review

NB. the next post will be on Friday, not Thursday.

I think I should begin this peice by explaining what The Magic Bullet is. This is an article from issue 170 of the Prison Service Journal, by one of my lecturers in Bangor, Martina Feilzer (written when she was a doctoral student at Oxford). The aim of the piece of research which the article is reporting on was to find out if "Improving public knowledge and confidence through the
provision of factual information on crime and criminal justice" was possible.

Most information presented on crime is in the form of reports of major crime cases, new government policies or factual information from the government. The aim of the study was to see whether factual evidence presented in a naturalistic way (in this case in a newspaper column) would improve knowledge about the criminal justice system.

To this effect, the researchers began writing a column (Crime Scene) in a local, weekly newspaper, The Oxford Times, and testing before and after (with control groups who weren't regular readers) to see whether knowledge of the criminal justice system had improved.

The testing found that knowledge hadn't improved that much at all, and that in most cases people knew that they didn't have a clue about answers to the questions (there was an option to tick a 'pure guess' box). Many people thought people were convicted less often for crimes like burglary and robbery than they actually are. Also the report found that most people only think prison should be used in last resort and that offenders can be helped to change - we do not have a reactionary population necessarily when it comes to prison, but answers were also found to reflect factual misconceptions that are widely reported in the mainstream media about the prison system.

There is however a quite telling quote (from an interviewee) in this piece, "I suppose one of the dangers [with] the increased knowledge of the criminal statistics [is], it can— depending on what they are—can cause some people to be more apprehensive. It can reassure certain people, but there is a danger of that. Yes I would personally like to know more information but I don’t know whether it would give people added security or scare them really." Similarly, another interviewee said "I mean it says here that prison doesn’t work but it sounds to me as though the community doesn’t work either."

For me, this shows that the aim of researchers at the Home Office, if such a Magic Bullet worked, would be to sure up support for the current penal system. But people aren't that stupid, in the absence of accurate information, they are pushed into supporting longer prison sentences etc. (I would say becuase of information presented to them in the tabloids to an extent, but also becuase it seems like an easy solution). But as those quote show, given accurate information people can tell that the current system doesn't work in relation to stopping crime.

The report conlcudes that the Magic Bullet (of the Crime Scene report) hasn't worked. But how could it a just one sole weekly piece in a world of misinformation. An article by Jock Young pointed out that one year when official crime figures had dropped, all bar one of the major newspapers reported a small rise in one type of crime. Factor in tv news bulletins, radio programmes and political broadcasts telling us we need to get 'tougher' on crime and no wonder a small weekly column makes next to no difference. For the media to accurately report crime in a factual manner on a regular basis it needs to be taken out of the hands of tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and his ilk and democratically run.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

After crimes occur that make news, demagogues as politician's and pundits, rail with short term solutions or solutions to appear hard on criminals. Science is the last thing they want to listen to.