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Crime and Crime reporting - The factors that effect what we read.

Crime and Crime reporting - The factors that effect what we read.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Mairead Kehoe. Originally submitted for BA Communication Studies at Dublin City University, with lecturer Dr Mark O'Brien in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Mairead Kehoe. Originally submitted for BA Communication Studies at Dublin City University, with lecturer Dr Mark O'Brien in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
 Abstract:
Are news headlines depicting a true representation of the level of crime in today’s society or do these sometimes-sensational headlines only serveto create a society of fear? When discussing crime and crime statistics, thenews media are actually discussing the crime rate in any one area over acertain period of time. However crime and the definition of crime is not staticand is subject to alteration though elements like social change and themodification of crime classifications. By looking at how crime is defined, howcrime statistics are recorded and compiled by various agencies such as AnGarda Siochana, and how hidden crime, by the very fact it is unreported and therefore unrecorded, can effect the public’s view of crime in society this article shows how crime itself is difficult to define and understand in its entirety. Eachconcept has been approached in a manner that can be easily understood byacademics and non-academics alike allowing the reader to decide for him or herself whether crime is being sensationalised by the news media and asks thequestion, can one say that crime statistics alone provide a true representationof crime in a society?
 Key words:
crime, criminology, definition of crime, classification of crime, social change, crime statistics, recording crime, changing crime, An GardaSiochana, PULSE, Central Statistics Office, Headline / Non Headline offence,hidden crime, crime and victimisation survey.
“The role of the media in terms or reportage of incidents and public response istherefore of importance. In a very real sense it is more than just the disseminator of information: it is the creator of response” (Fennell, 1993, p28) Media portrayal of crime helps to form our understanding. From sources like newspapers welearn not only how much and what types of crime there is in our society but also where thesecrimes most commonly occur and who is most at risk. But most of what is reported in themedia comes from sources other than personal experience, i.e. from crime statistics.At first glance crime statistics seem clear cut. They help identify crime ‘hot spots’ and toformulate new policies in order to prevent crime. This assignment will look at some of thefactors that can affect the validity of crime statistics, such as social change, alterations tooffence classifications and unreported crime, and aim to show that if one probes a littledeeper crime statistics are only a partial view of society and crime is indeed difficult to notonly define but to measure in its entirety.
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What are crime statistics? 
As explained in
Criminology
(Hale et al, 2009, p43-47) crime statistics are ‘the acccountsthat the State compiles of the actions of its agencies concerning those acts which the law proscribes’. Crime statistics are quantative evidence which set out to record and examinethree areas, the actual number of offences that occur, the frequency of these offences and theratio of crime to poulation of any one area.Usually there are two main views of crime statistics taken by Criminologists, ‘the realistview’ and ‘the constructivist perspective’. While a realist may see statistics as ‘the officialrecord’ and ‘the indicator of the state of crime in society’ a constructivist would see statisticsas more of an insight into the agencies that record crime feeling statistics ‘confuse detailsabout crime with the way it is reacted to and dealt with by the relevant authorities’.“It is now increasingly accepted that criminal statistics provide deficient guide to both the level of crime and trends in criminal behaviour.” (Jones, 2003, p50)When crime statistics are reported by the media what is really being discussed is the crimerate, i.e. the measure of crime over a certain period of time in a particular area. But again, if a crime is unreported and therefore not recorded can one say that crime statistics alone provide a true representation of crime in a society?
What is crime?
Crime can be an act that breaks the law of the land such as larceny or embezzelment butcrime can also be something that offends a person’s moral code such as an ‘activityconsidered to be evil, shameful, or wrong’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011). The firstexplanation of crime may be referred to as a legal definition of crime and the second as a lawof morality.
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 Where a breach of the law through a crime like larceny is enforced by the courts, a breach or morality is not, nor would a breach of morality be recorded in any crime statistics, thereforefor the purpose of measuring crime it is the legal definition that is used.“A crime is defined as a wrongful act which directly and seriously threatens thesecurity or well-being of society and which is unsafe to be redressed by the merecompensation of the injured party. It is a wrongful act against the communitywith punishment imposed by the courts and enforced by the executive.” (Doolan,1992, p125)At first this legal definition of crime seems quite succinct, however when you consider that‘legal laws are the product of human endeavour’ (Doolan, 1993, p2) it opens this definitionto the prospect of change, in other words as people and society evolves so to does its laws,which in turn makes accurately defining and measuring crime more difficult.
Changing Crime:
“It has long been recognized that the social processes which shape theuncovering, classifying and recording of events greatly affect the volume of officially known crime in modern societies” (Skogan, 1974, p27)
 
A good example of how laws can be altered through social change (lobbying etc) is thedecriminalisation of homosexuality in Irish law in June 1993.Due to Ireland’s historical connection with England we inherited ‘a foreign system of laws’(Doolan, 1993, p2) and the Irish judicial system became largely based upon the Englishmodel even after independence. This meant that prior to 1993 certain laws – which wereremnants of the Brittish system - dating from the nineteenth century, namely The Offencesagainst the Persons Act 1861 and Criminal Law Ammendment Act 1880, renderedhomosexual acts illegal.
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