Mainstream Media Push Falsehoods
News Coverage Skews Picture of Youth Crime
Our thanks to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice for this news item.
Depictions of crime in the news are not reflective of the rate of crime, the proportion of crime which is violent, the proportion of crime committed by people of color, or the proportion of crime committed by youth, according to a new study released by Building Blocks for Youth.
The study, "Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News," was commissioned by Building Blocks for Youth, a national initiative to promote a fair and effective youth justice system, and prepared by the Berkeley Media Studies Group and the Justice Policy Institute. The study examines a variety of content analyses of newspaper and television crime coverage.
"People rely on the news media for accurate information. When it comes to crime, youth and people of color they're getting confusion rather than clarity -- part of the story, not the whole story. The news media can do better," said Lori Dorfman, report co-author and Director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group.
Youth rarely appear in the news, but when they do, they are unduly connected to violence or crime. For example, one study of local California TV coverage found that nearly 7 in 10 news stories on violence involved youth, while youth arrests made up only 14% of arrests for violent crime that year. Another study found that more than half of TV news stories concerning children or youth involved violence, while only 2% of young people were either victims of violence or violent offenders that year.
Homicide coverage on network news increased 473% from 1990 to 1998, while homicides decreased 32.9% during that time. While there was a 68% decline in homicides committed by youth from 1993 to 1999, 62% of the public reported believing that youth crime was on the increase.
People of color, and especially Africans Americans, are disproportionately portrayed as perpetrators of crime, and underrepresented as victims. Three-fourths of the media studies which examined the race of perpetrators found that minorities were depicted substantially in excess of their rates of offending, while seven out of eight studies examining the race of victims found underreporting of minorities as crime victims. The most recent research on Latinos portrayals indicates that they rarely appear in the news, and when they do it is likely to be in stories about crime or immigration.
"The news media's routine portrayal of African Americans and people of color as criminals is an outrage," said Hilary Shelton, Director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP. "We need to more stringently monitor the continued distortions of racial and ethnic minorities and crime in the news."
The study notes that the combined distortions of people of color overrepresented as criminals and underrepresented as victims, young people over-represented as criminals, and the undue coverage of violent crime, produce an inaccurate and unfair image of crime in America.
The study details recommendations for the news media to improve crime coverage including:
* Putting crime into context by providing relevant data on actual crime rates as well as outlining the external factors that contribute to youth crime."When more than three quarters of the public forms its opinion about crime from the news, the consequences of these distortions are disturbing and real," said Vincent Schiraldi, report co-author and President of the Justice Policy Institute. "Exaggerated depictions of America's youth as budding criminals leads to bad public policy that condemns 14-year-olds to life without the possibility of parole."
* Balancing stories about crime and youth with stories about youth accomplishments.
* Conducting voluntary periodic audits of their news content and sharing the results with audiences.
"Off Balance" is the fourth in a series of reports commissioned by Building Blocks for Youth, and will be published in an upcoming edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Crime and Delinquency. To view the study, visit http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/
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