TV Crime vs. Crime in Real Life
TV Myth: All crimes are ultimately solved and perpetrators brought to justice.
Real Life: Most crimes are never solved (around 80 percent of murders are solved, but less than 20 percent of burglaries). The chances of being sent to prison for committing one crime are 1 out of 100.
- from Lecture 7 of Dr. Cecil Greek's Crime and Media seminar: Reel Cops
TV Myth: Violent crime is pervasive in today's society.
Real Life: Since 1955, television characters have been murdered at a rate 1,000 times higher than real world people.
- from Watching America, by Stanley Rothman et al., New York: Prentice Hall, 1991
Perceptions of Crime
There seems to be a discrepancy between Canadians' perceptions of crime and the actual crime rate. While fear of crime is increasing in Canadian society, the statistics tell another story. A 1995 survey by the Toronto Star discovered the following:
- Almost half the public believed violent crime to be on the increase - even though violent crime fell 3 per cent in the previous year and the murder rate was at a 25 year low at the time of the survey.
- In his law and order campaign, Ontario Premier Mike Harris was implementing boot camps for young offenders, despite the steady decline in the youth crime rate.
- The federal Liberals passed a controversial gun control law in June 1995 to deal with a perceived growing "gun" problem, yet only 6 per cent of violent crimes involved firearms.
- Burglar alarm sales were booming, even though break and enters were down 6 per cent the previous year.
- A growing number of women reported taking action to protect themselves outside the home, yet across Canada, nine women were killed by strangers in 1994, while 97 were killed by their spouses.
- While parents reported taking all kinds of measures to protect their children from strangers, abductions accounted for less than 1 per cent of violent crime.
- "Crime rate's down, our fears are up." The Toronto Star. August 20, 1995, A1
Portrayal of Law Enforcement
In the news
In a 1993 study of the image of Canadian police in national news, The National Media Archive found that negative stories about the police force were aired more frequently than stories on the police fighting crime.
|TV Attention to Canadian Police||CBC (Percent of Statements)||CTV (Percent of Statements)|
|Police Criminal Activity||8.5%||4%|
|Internal Police Affairs||15.5%||14%|
|Police, Policing and Politics||17%||9.5%|
|Police Conduct and Actions||20%||29%|
- from On Balance, Vol.7, Number 2.
In police dramas (U.S.)
An NYC Police Foundation Survey on police and public perceptions of police shows found that:
- 40 percent of the public believe police shows offer accurate portrayals of police work. Only 14 percent of the police interviewed agreed.
- Do TV police dramas hurt the image of the police? 46 percent of the public said they had no effect, while 48 percent of police said such programming hurt their image.
- Sixty-one percent of the public believe TV police respect the rights of suspects, while 34 percent of the sample said that real police do not respect suspect's rights. In comparison, 60 percent of the police interviewed said TV police did not act within the law.
- On weapons use, 64 percent of the public said TV police used their weapons responsibly, while 67 percent of the police said they did not.
- While viewers were accepting of the driving patterns demonstrated in TV cop shows, real police recognized the driving as irresponsible.
Other poor police tactics have been identified on TV police dramas:
- Police busts occur inside restaurants rather than outside, increasing the risk of hostage-taking.
- Crime scenes are not maintained and are easily accessed by outsiders.
- TV cops still use their guns first, then think. TV cops shoot several times an hour, despite the fact that in reality, an average cop in New York City would have to work sixty years just to shoot once.
- from Lecture 6 of Dr. Cecil Greek's Crime and Media seminar: Reel Cops
In 1995, Statistics Canada found that the average Canadian police officer deals with less than fifty criminal code incidents a year (excluding traffic offences). Of these offences, only a small percentage deal with violent crime.
- Statistics Canada Crime Statistics, 1995.
Crime Reporting and the News (U.S.)
The correlation between crimes committed and crime reporting
- According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the rate for serious violent crimes dropped 6 percent and the rate of crimes against property fell 10 percent in the United States between 1990 and 1995. During that same time span, network news coverage of crime increased by 240 percent.
- In the real world, homicides declined by 13 percent between 1990 and 1995, while network news coverage of murders for the same period increased by 336 percent.
- Crime reporting on the three major U.S. networks reached a peak in 1995 (at 2,574 stories). Even if you exclude stories about the O.J. Simpson murder trial and Oklahoma City bombing, stories about crime outnumbered all other topics. Overall, CBS and NBC aired the most crime news, broadcasting more than 27 hours of crime coverage apiece (nearly 4.5 minutes per newscast), while ABC devoted 22 hours to crime (3.5 minutes per night).
- from Media Monitor, Vol XI Number 3: July/August 1997.
A 1993 study by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found that depictions of violence were more accepted in newscasts than in entertainment.
- Although 52 percent of the respondents surveyed felt that "TV news is too full of violence", 55 percent of those polled believed that this accurately reflected social reality.
- Fifty-seven percent believed that TV news gives too much attention to stories about violent crimes, 12 percent said not enough attention was given to these stories and 26 percent felt the amount of coverage was appropriate.
- Among the respondents bothered by TV violence, 54 percent found fictional depictions of violence on TV more disturbing than depictions of violence in real situations.
- This study found age to be the biggest demographic determinant of violence viewing, with 74 percent of those under the age of 30 in the "heavy consuming" category. Fifty percent of the 30-49 year olds and only 20 percent of those over 50 were in the "heavy consuming" category.
- The study also found a correlation between tolerance of violence and violent TV viewing. Eighty-five percent of people 50 and older felt there was too much violence in entertainment TV, compared to 57 percent of people under 30. As for the news, 49 percent of those under 30 thought TV news paid too much attention to violent news stories, while 63 percent of older people made the same criticism.
- from "TV Violence: More Objectionable in Entertainment Than in Newscasts". Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, News Release, Wednesday March 24, 1993.
Violence against women
The National Media Archive looked at census samples of 35 CBC news stories from "The National" and "The Journal" and 33 "CTV National News" stories for a year beginning June 15, 1989. Stories were coded into subject categories.
- Ninety-three percent of CBC and 71 per cent of CTV coverage on violence against women examined extremely bizarre cases. Researchers concluded that coverage did not reflect the reality that nearly 60 percent of female victims of homicide are killed by someone with whom they share a domestic relationship (Women in Canada: A Statistical Report, Statistics Canada 1990).
- Domestic violence comprised just over a quarter of CTV coverage and less than one tenth of CBC coverage on violence against women.
- They found that the news coverage of violence against women and children was not used to educate the public but rather to fascinate and entertain.
- from "Stories Emphasized Violence Against Women and Children", On Balance, Vol. 3 No.8 September, 1990.
Murder rate in comparison to news coverage of murder
The National Media Archive used its database text search to find the number of stories on murder. The study examined 1,917 CBC and 1,593 CTV news stories between January 1989 and June 30, 1995.
- Though the murder rate for 1994 dropped eight percent (Homicide Survey Policing Services Program, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, August 1995), murder reports were 33 percent more frequent than the previous year.
- Between 75 and 98 percent of news stories focused on murders committed by strangers (random murders). Over the past seven years the random murder rate has remained consistent at 12 and 18 percent (Homicide Survey Policing Services Program, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, August 1995).
- from "Murder statistics: Murder down for third year in a row, murder coverage up for third year in a row", On Balance, Vol.8 no. 7, 1995.
Credibility of Local Newscasts (U.S.)
A 1997 Newseum/Roper Center survey polled Americans on their attitudes towards local news and found that:
- Three out of five respondents said local TV news was "excellent" or "good".
- Local TV news anchors were seen as far more trustworthy than their print counterparts.
- Sixty-eight percent said they were "extremely" or "very interested" in crime news, 54 percent said they were interested in local government news.
- Reliance on TV news goes down as education attainment increases. This study found that 62 percent Americans with less than a high school degree watch local TV news daily, compared to 46 percent among those with advanced degrees.
- from "Local Television News: Americans watch it, trust it". A Media Studies Center News Advisory, April 1997.
American and Canadian Crime Reporting
Do Canadian and American newscasts differ when it comes to crime stories? In 1997, The National Media Archive and Rocky Mountain Media Watch examined the reporting of "chaos" news (crime, accidents, natural disasters) and compared it to the reporting of "soft" news (general human interest, entertainment, arts and culture) and "civil" news (governance, business, legal affairs, health, science, social issues and the environment) on Canadian and American local newscasts.
| ||Canada||United States|
- from "TV News Less "Chaotic" in Canada". National Media Archive News Release, 19 November, 1997.
A 1995 random seven-day content analysis of CBLT, CFTO and Citytv six o'clock newscasts by the Ryerson Review of Journalism found that these Canadian local stations were even closer to the American average, with 36 percent of CBLT items, 37 percent of CFTO items and 48 percent of Citytv items dealing with crime.
- from "Crime-Time News - How Toronto's TV stations distort the picture of what's really happening on the streets", by Cristina Paula Brandao. Ryerson Review of Journalism. Spring 1995.