Perception Vs Reality in Media Portrayal of Crime

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About this sample


Words: 3364 |

Pages: 7|

17 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 3364|Pages: 7|17 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Social Imagery and Perception
  3. The Pattern Between Crime and Fear of Crime
  4. Mediatization
  5. Potential Victimization Through Individualism
  6. Broadcasting and Communication
  7. Potential Victimization through Communication
  8. Perception vs Reality
  9. Evaluation of News Presented
    Key Elements
    Media Perception of Crime
  10. Populism
  11. Effects of Overrepresentation on the Public
    Bias and Political Agenda
    Public Dependence
    Media as “The Source”
  12. Conclusion
  13. References


Living in our current society, technology and the media surround us in our everyday lives. Entertainment such as news, movies and video games depict violent imagery in millions of homes, yet are considered normal in today’s world. This consumption of media either makes the threat of the outside world more daunting or less alarming and brings up the topic of perception vs reality. People have always been fascinated by crime despite the fact it is condemned. This has led many to questions the role and relationship between media and crime. Over the years there have been countless debates and proposed theories surrounding the effects of the media on political agenda, the judicial system, and general public opinion. A study from Global News, Scotti, (2017) found out that “The average percentage of crime that is violent is believed to be 45 percent, when in fact it is around 20 percent, highlighting the same exaggerated sense of crime in Canada”. This aligns with the perceived notion that members of the public tend to overestimate the violent crimes and crimes in general committed in Canada. The media's focus on over-representing certain crimes produces a reaction in viewers to fear crime rather than to learn about it. Fearful people choose quick solutions against crime, choosing a strategy of relying on punitive rather than reformatory changes to crime control policies.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

Social Imagery and Perception

There is a consensus that human minds can be influenced by certain factors. How you grow up and the people around you can potentially shape how you will act in the future. Generally, there is a dynamic between crime and justice in the media interconnected world. (Eamonn, 2017: p. 238). This dynamic has the power of broadcasting images in a broader scheme from individuals to a societal perspective. This creates the potential of media and crime shaping social imagery. Certain crimes can begin to seem “normal” causing a shift in social imagery. (Eamonn, 2017). This can break and cause the divide between reality and representation with media only showing the things they want you to see. NEED 1 MORE SENTENCE

The Pattern Between Crime and Fear of Crime

The connection between crime and fear of crime cannot be analyzed through a certain pattern. Most would imagine that if the rate of crime was high, it would lead to fear also being high. The opposite being if that if the crime rate was low, fear of crime would follow this pattern. This relationship however has rarely ever depended on each other as they are both independent. As noted in lecture and throughout the course, while crime in Canada has been declining for the past 20 years, fear of crime has always been a topic of our concern. This brings forth the idea that there may be some sort of fascination from the public in regard to crime consumption. (Dolliver, Kenney, Reid, & Prohaska, 2018). 


The effect of media on the psyche is thought to play in that the media plays a direct role in presenting images to its audience. These images have the potential power to change, manipulate or control opinions of the population. (Jewkes, 2015). Jewkes (2015) states individuals who consume news reports obtain information to make choices about consumer products based on the information learned through the media. (p. #22). For instance, if the media focuses our attention on certain issues, we will probably, as a result, become influenced by the issue. (Eamonn, 2017 p. 238). This could include anywhere from older examples like prohibition in the 30s to more recent examples such as gun violence in America. While this theory may not be completely accurate as everyone is influenced differently, it may hold sway to some of the general public. 

Potential Victimization Through Individualism

Concern about the crime can be associated with the perception of potential victimization. With gun violence being apparent in America, comparisons have been made by the media to other countries in terms of dealing with gun laws. A way to measure fear of crime is to ask people whether they avoid doing certain things and take preventive measures. This can help to differentiate fear as you can compare results to actual facts to determine if the fear is warranted. (Dolliver, et. al, 2018). It can allow you to analyze perception vs reality in that crime has generally decreased over time but due to media overrepresentation of violent crimes, the public may assume crime is more prevalent in our society. The connection between fear of crime and the media is difficult to pinpoint. (Dolliver, et. al, 2018) Do individuals fear crime on the grounds that a large amount of crime is broadcasted or does the media provide document crime because people fear crime and want to find out more? This fear of crime alludes to the potential danger of being a victim of crime as compared to the actual probability of being a victim. Fleming (2006) states depending on actual risk and a person subjective approaches to the danger it can erode public health and psychological well being. (p. 851). This may also affect routine activities, habits, and can diminish community trust.

Broadcasting and Communication

Potential Victimization through Communication

Hearing about events, knowing others who have been victimized these are all thought to raise the perception of being at risk of victimization. Evidence exists that hearing of someone you know being a victim increases anxiety. (Dolliver, et. al, 2018). These indirect experiences of crime may play a stronger role in fear about victimization than direct experience. A subject's criminal risk perception could become exaggerated even more with the constant feed of crime in the media if they have never been a victim. (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006). When watching the news we tend to look at certain things about the event such as the perpetrators, victims, motive. The notion of having similarities may be key if the audience can identify with the described victim, or feels as though their surroundings bears resemblance to the one described. (Eamonn, 2017). This information presented to the public on serious crimes could also produce fear within the public, causing moral panics. (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006). This is easily caused by the constant feeding of crime stories which leads the audience to fear and develop the idea that they may easily become a victim of such crime. With the media's contributions, a climate of fear is created, with the actual frequency of victimization being a tiny fraction. The reality is that violent crimes have been declining over the years. Dolliver (2018) states that media could exploit social naivety, covering crime not only selective but also distorting the everyday world of crime. (p. 406). This significance is said to form the perceptions of society on crime, victimization and criminal justice policies. (Eamonn, 2017).


A more significant issue here is how the perception of individuals, who rely on information from the media due to their lack of knowledge and experience with crime. (Surette, 2015). They form stereotypes of certain criminals and crimes in our society due to the moral panics the media creates. As a result, people start to believe the myths and distortions of the media and associate certain minorities or individuals with certain crimes. The consumption of media had a profound effect on instilling the fear of terrorism in the United States, though these acts of terror are very rare. Media can influence the public’s perception to the point where it can create a distorted view on reality. After the events of 9/11, the threat of terrorism was made well aware through the general media. Many changes were made to protect the National security of many countries concerning flying. Many people in the public began to believe in the distorted view against Muslims or even South Asians despite not knowing that the perpetrators of these attacks do not represent the majority of the religion they were associated with.

Stigmatization was very prevalent and still is thanks to media coverage not broadcasting all the facts but instead presenting the facts with the highest shock value. The media’s main purpose is to make money and they need an audience to keep tuning into these shows. (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006) Shock and drama usually always attract an audience. The analogy of having both a basketball game and a fight going on in close proximity of each other can clearly demonstrate this. Most people would be watching and surrounding the fight due to it having the biggest potential shock factor and providing the more dramatic form of entertainment. Apart from the public interest in crime, the production of crime news also serves the purpose of making the public feel involved in social change and informing them about the criminal justice systems in our society. (Surette, 2015).

Perception vs Reality

Evaluation of News Presented

Crime has always been and always will be a current topic of interest as it will continue to be apart of society. Media presents it for the purposes of both information and entertainment. (Surette, 2015) Jewkes (2015) suggests that news reporters must evaluate the value of a news story and test to see if it meets certain news structures and elements to make it a newsworthy piece. (p. 84) Crime news meets most of these necessary news values which include elements of a stories unpredictability yet simplification and the involvement of risk. Its proximity, violence and the involvement of potential political or ideological value. (Jewkes, 2015). When a shooting occurs, it is generally associated with all these values as it is surrounded around unpredictability of why it occurred yet is simple to report as the audience can understand. It has a large involvement of risk as shootings occur in regular areas of visitation such as malls, school or even outside. The Eaton Centre shooting in 2012 can be a prime example of this as it is a place where one should not be expected to be involved in a shooting unlike say in a war overseas. Politicians will flock to these situations to try and address these circumstances to the public in hopes of winning support but all these factors contribute to fear. To live in a society where shootings are now seen as somewhat normal, it makes you question why can't you become a victim?

Key Elements

Even though most crime news may contain most of these features, some stories may not be explored in the media. (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006). This is evident in that often times local stories you hear around you don't really make it to the local news such as a robbery at your local mall. That is why, as Dolliver, (2018) states, a crime story has a major element that brings certain attention with it and this is the fact that it has ‘novelty’ or ‘newness’ which teaches something new to its audience. (p. 408). In her own words, Jewkes (2015) states despite often being described as a ‘window on the world’ or a mirror reflecting real life, the media might be more accurately thought of like a prism, subtly bending and distorting the view of the world it projects. (p. 41) Generally, the perception of crime is viewed as dangerous and something you do not want to not want to be apart of yet there is an influx of crime representation in our media consumption. The media presents a distorted image of the reality of crime and criminals. (Dolliver, et. al, 2018).

Media Perception of Crime

Media distortion of crime facts and statistics is not only limited to violent crime committed. White collar crimes can also be associated with media distortion as it plays a large role in the reporting of these crimes. As mentioned in lecture, non-violent crimes like white collar or corporate crimes and criminals are distorted differently by the media and are underrepresented. For instance, violent crimes like murder are overrepresented compared to corporate or white-collar crimes. (Eamonn, 2017). If you were to conduct a study on violent crime, you would get a lot more financial and public support whereas if you were to do the same for white collar or corporate crime, the general public would feel as though it isn’t as serious of a matter. (Jewkes, 2015) The popularity of such themes of violent crimes is one which the public is fascinated with and thus, the media distorts its images, facts and statistics about crimes in order to meet this public fascination and public demand. Surette (2015) states that a crime is a hidden activity and one which is ‘out of sight’, individuals become further interested in these ‘unknown’ activities as they hope to learn more. (p. 14).

Crimes with unpredictability could include those committed by children. Children committing crime meets the criteria of newsworthiness compared to the local robbery of a store. As mentioned by Jewkes (2015) these types of violent crimes by young children allow the media to instill fear of crime in the minds of the public which as a result leads to the implementation of changes in public policies. (Eamonn 2017). This furthermore, causes the public to view these children as ones who cannot be rehabilitated causing support for punitive policies as opposed to rehabilitation. (Surette 2015).


Effects of Overrepresentation on the Public

With the idea of idea of overrepresentation coupled with distortion and its potential psychological effects, an increased amount of media intake may cultivate a societal culture full of fear. Results indicate that more media consumption could lead to significant support for crime control policies and support for stricter crime control policies despite crime rates dropping in most parts of the world. (Surette 2015). An example of this could be the Vegas shooting, with some of the public calling for stricter hotel regulations such as baggage checks. This can allow politicians a scapegoat for their campaigns in order to help the public. Despite limited evidence, it seems to prove that stricter crime control policies such as harsher sentences do not seem to deter the perpetrators of these crimes. (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006) Rather there is this sensation received from the public in wanting to support more regulatory rules. Politicians and the media abide by this in hopes of cultivating for populism.

Bias and Political Agenda

It is significant to know that despite the decrease in crime, media coverage of crime increased by 600% between 1998 and 2008. Crime is a problem which cannot be eradicated but we should look to minimize it to our best efforts. The media's culture of fear has largely been dominated by frequent stories of crime and punishment as politicians hope to achieve an emotional bias. (Surette 2015) Fear of crime has had an impact on crime control policies which can further lead to larger incarceration rate. Having inspired tough on crime policies the support for more punitive policies can be fueled with media in our lives. This could lead to a more decisive and action-oriented response to crime. The media is considered as both a source and an audience. (Roberts 2003). The ‘war on drugs’ was fueled by media as the government hoped to combat and sway public opinion. Drugs were the hottest reporting story after the Vietnam war as drug use went on to become one of the most publicized new issues in the mid 80s. (Roberts 2003). This provides a prime example of how political and media interacts can work together to enhance public concern for their own benefit.

Public Dependence

Media can influence public opinion on the leniency of the judicial system. Coverage of murders committing further acts of crimes provokes public opinion and outrage as well as more severe support for crime control policies such as the death penalty. Media's influence can cause support for penal populism as the media caters to the largest majority as do politicians battling each other to be tougher on crime. Medias influences the belief in the value of punishment as a response to crime. (Roberts 2003) With the overrepresentation of violent crimes, it has increased the public's dependence on their facts causing policies to sway in their favor and even the judicial system to follow this as well. An important way in which media can change public perception is through the shaping and framing of the actual number of crime and volume. Can look at the distorted view towards the public from the media and emphasis on dramatic crime when compared to real evidence such as police reports and victimization surveys. There is an overestimation in the prevalence and the chance of victimization.

Media as “The Source”

Media and news want to hook its audience so they always tune in which further to leads to the concern of what is the primary purpose of the media? (Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006). Is it to bring forth entertainment or is it to educate viewers? If it is to entertain then it is considered successful as millions watch the news. If the purpose to educate viewers, it is not necessarily sharing the ‘real facts’. The answer is neither as once again, the primary purpose of these large media sources is to make money with all other purposes coming after the fact. Roberts (2003) states that if public policy is based on public opinion, that opinion is conditioned by media output. Media may affect crime policy through the assumption that they reflect the true nature of the public opinion. Most people think of violent crimes when asked general questions crime showcasing the general public's reliance on media as their main source. (Roberts 2003) A politician may use media as a source for what the majority of people are thinking. (Roberts 2003) When relating to the judicial system and crime control policies, Judges regularly cite public opinion as a factor in sentencing decisions which are likely to attract public criticism. (Roberts 2003) Judges could possibly gain their impression from public opinion in the same way politicians do. Media has the power to pursue their own agenda if they choose to do so as they can hold potential sway on the general public, politicians and the judicial system. (Roberts 2003) Crime policy favors populism and if media creates fear, this could either create a systematic distortion of information about crime where there is usually larger support for punitiveness rather than rehabilitation.


In conclusion, the effects and influence of the media in relation to crime continue to be a popular theme. With the media having the potential power to bring forth fear to the public it may cause moral panics and changes throughout society. This is evident through their depictions of certain crimes and criminals. These distortions by the media in relation to crime have influenced the future of our justice system. Overrepresented illustrations of crime have the power to set public agendas, form public opinions and even change policies and laws. Future research questions could include, does media consumption impact or lead to potential aggressiveness and change in psyche? The idea of learning through your surroundings is always prevalent in our lives and this question could analyze the impact of media consumption through a scientific lens as opposed to a sociological lens. Media covers crime using a national lens. Crime is viewed as a society-wide failure and brings others together to shift focus on crime control policies instead of addressing other issues such as maybe the over-glorification of crime in the media. In conclusion, crime consumption does impact both crime control policies and brings forth fear, as the potential notion of being a victim is further instilled due to media coverage.

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    1. Dolliver, M. Kenney J. Reid L, & Prohaska A, (2018). Examining the Relationship Between Media Consumption, Fear of Crime, and Support for Controversial Criminal Justice Policies Using a Nationally Representative Sample. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice,34(4), 399-420.
    2. Eamonn, C. (2017). “Crime and Media” In Carlen, P. and Leonardo Ayres, F. (Eds.), Alternative criminologies (pp. 234-246). London: Porto Alegre.
    3. Fleming T. & Muzzatti S. (2006). Constructing Crime: Media, Crime, and Popular Culture, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 48(6), 837-865.
    4. Jewkes, Y. (2015). Media and crime. Los Angeles: Sage.
    5. Roberts, Julian et al. (2003) “The Influence of the Media” in Penal Populism and Public Opinion: Lessons from Five Countries. Pp 76-32. New York: Oxford University Press.
    6. Surette, R. (2015). Media, crime, and criminal justice. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
    7. Scotti, M. (2017, August 03). Canadians still wildly overestimating the level of violent crime. Retrieved from


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Perception vs Reality in Media Portrayal of Crime. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Perception vs Reality in Media Portrayal of Crime.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
Perception vs Reality in Media Portrayal of Crime. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
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