Mass Media’s Portrayal toward Crime and Justice Influence Public


Attitude Formation and Political Behavior: Specifically, Fear ofCrime, Police Brutality and Police Effectiveness


Mass media acts as the main source of public knowhow on crime andjustice. The research evaluates what impact mass media portrayal hasof how the public forms attitudes towards police effectiveness, tendto fear crime and view on police brutality. The study informs on whatcontent the media portrays via the different medium. The paper usesresponses from the public to determine media’s influence. Evidenceused includes existing studies on mass media’s influence on thepublic.

The public depends on mass media to inform on almost all issues.Thus, mass media’s influence is important because media acts as afundamental force for shaping the public’s attitudes. Most popularin the media, is the portrayal of crime and justice. Ranging frommovies, books, newspapers, television broadcasts and magazines, inaddition to daily media communication, the public is continuouslyinvolved in discussing crime and justice issues.

The outcome is that the mass media becomes successful in shaping thecriminal justice structure. The manner in which the public viewsoffenders, victims, law enforcers and deviants is hugely influencedby their depiction in mass media. Research demonstrates that most ofthe public knowhow concerning crime and justice originates from massmedia, hence the relevance of examining the impacts of media on thepublic (Chan &amp Chan, 2012).

This research examines the manners in which mass media’s depictionof crime and justice has an effect on the development of publicattitudes and political conduct. In specific, the research focuses onfear of crime, police brutality as well as police effectiveness.


Fear of crime, police brutality and the effectiveness of the policeare relevant factors shaping public attitudes concerning crime andjustice in America. The strategies, which police employ, are areflection of department principles that reveal community values.Good or bad viewpoints towards police might have an influence on howthe police make policies as well as strategy (Chan &amp Chan, 2012).In addition, civilian attitudes might have an influence on thepolicies and approaches, which police employ. Civilians’ viewpointsconcerning the police might have an influence on deciding whether toreport offences. The fear of crime and police brutality might affectpolicies and laws that are made by government agencies, because thesupport or resistance from the public might determine policy. Hence,the study is important because

  • It contributes to the research on mass media’s portrayal of crime and justice in influencing the public’s attitude.

  • The study is also important because it explains how and why mass media has such an influential effect on the public.

  • In addition, is illustrating how media content causes the public to fear crime, question police effectiveness and attitude towards police brutality.

Literature Review

Mass Media Influence Models

Prior to discussing how the public is influenced by mass media, itis necessary to explain mass media influence evolution. According toScheufele and Tewksbury (2007), the media has the potential ofproducing influencing attitude effects on viewers and readers.However, the effects rely on predispositions, representation anddifferent traits of audiences, which influence the manner in whichprocessing of messages presented through mass media happens. Thereare three models concerning the influence of mass media, which areframing, agenda setting and priming (Scheufele &amp Tewksbury(2007).

Framing deals with how content presented via mass media results ineffects on content perception (Chan &amp Chan, 2012). Agenda settingrefers to how the media determines what information to give morecoverage and in what manners. It is the ability of mass media to havea direct influence on individual’s opinions after the mediahighlights the issues (Chan &amp Chan, 2012). Priming regards to thechange in standards, which people employ in making politicalevaluations (Chan &amp Chan, 2012). It happens when media contentreporting suggests to audiences what to employ as benchmarks forassessment of some particular issues.

An illustration is government performance. This makes priming anexpansion of agenda setting. Both models are founded onmemory-founded models of processing data. They presume thatindividual formation of viewpoints is linked to what they see. Bymaking some issues more outstanding to the minds of audiences(setting the agenda), media is also capable of shaping the thoughts,which people ponder on when expressing their views concerning theissues (priming).

Fear of Crime

Research demonstrates that the heavy viewing of violence throughmass media results in fear instead of violence (Sparks, 2006).Individuals that view a large amount of content that comprises ofcrime have a higher likelihood of feeling threatened by crime, deemthat crime is more widespread contrary to statistics and take moresafety measures to avoid crime (Sparks, 2006). Such people view crimepresented via mass media more brutal, perilous and random contrary toin real life. As a result, audiences internalize what is portrayedthrough media and create a negative world outlook, or frighteningattitude of reality.

Additional research on the association amid fear and watching crimeon television shows an immediate and great association (Tyler, 2001).This association relies on the traits of the media content andaudiences. For instance, when media focuses on presenting a lot ofcrime in local areas, it results in an enhanced fear of crime to alarger percent of the audiences. However, when most of the crimepresented is not local, it does not cause much fear. This is becauseaudiences feel they are safer when compared to other non-localregions.

According to Chiricos, Padgett andGertz (2000), national and local media reporting of crime hasa higher relation with causing fear of crime. The impact is higherfor persons that stay in areas considered high crime regions, orthose that have been exposed to crime victimization. Concerning theinfluence of mass media on audiences, fear of victimization isdependent on the person watching the crime news. Persons from highcrime areas who view massive coverage of crime happening within theirresidence fear crime.

A different relevant aspect that makes mass media influential toaudiences is if the viewers have a direct experience or share traitsmaking them susceptible to crime. Studies demonstrate that mediasources are more influential when audiences do not have a directexperience (Sparks, 2006). For instance, when media covers a crime,it is more likely to cause fear to persons that have never beenvictims, as it does to those that have been victims. However,non-victims perceive the crime as very dangerous and are unpreparedon how to protect themselves, which causes intense fear.

The frequency of viewing television, reading newspapers or listeningto radio has a significant link to fear (Chiricos, Padgett&amp Gertz, 2000). However, television seems to have agreater influence because audiences are able to see clearly and incases of live coverage almost experience the crime first-hand. Thefear of crime is higher in offences that involve sexual attack,mugging, shooting, burglar attacking a home and being beaten.Research further demonstrates that people who watch crime shows havea higher likelihood of experiencing fear of becoming sexual assaultvictims, murdered or experiencing physical attack (Chiricos, Padgett&amp Gertz, 2000).

Researchers link the public’s fear of crime to pressure at findingeffective solutions to eliminating crime (Sparks, 2006). Some studiesconcentrate on if media demonstrations of crime have an influence inshaping views on criminal justice strategy. The massive presentationof crime enhances the audiences’ pressure to desire more helpfulpolicing as well as disciplinary responses to wrongdoing (Langan etal, 2001). Additionally, mass media depicts the agents involved inregulating crime as ineffective and not competent, resulting inpublic support for more detention centers, police as well asresources to the criminal justice structure.

Police Effectiveness

Generally, the public attitudes about police are affirmative (Chan &ampChan, 2012). Nevertheless, research has focused on determining howmass media influences the manner in which the public rates theeffectiveness of police. There are two differing depictions of policein media. There is positive and negative mass media portrayal of thepolice (Chan &amp Chan, 2012). Fictional crime programs tend toover-dramatize as well as romanticize the police. Most of theprograms conclude with the arrest of offenders, as police are able tosolve the offences. On the other hand, news coverage depiction of thepolice is as persons effective in solving offenses and heroes.

Research also demonstrates that news coverage seems to overstate thenumber of crimes, which lead to arrest portraying the police aseffective compared to what official statistics show (Lopez &ampThomas, 2004). The positive mass media coverage is an aftermath ofpublic relations stratagem by the police. When the media reportsproactively about the police, audiences view police as effective indealing with misdemeanor. In turn, this reinforces political behaviortowards enhancing police presence, punishments that are morestringent and an increase in police authority.

There are studies that suppose a symbiotic association prevails amidmass media portrayal of police effectiveness (Sparks, 2006). It issupposed that the media and police have a mutual association thatbenefits both parties. Media requires police to act as a dependablesource of information concerning crime as they emerge. On the otherhand, by providing the information, the police expect that the mediawill portray them as effective. Conversely, other studies deem thatpositive depiction of police in mass media does not happen (Lopez &ampThomas, 2004). For instance, although television and drama programsmight show the positive side of police, print media publishesnegative news about police.

Notably, the public determines the effectiveness of police based oncorrection and courts. Although most of the crimes in media becomesolved, the heroes do not necessarily become the police. This differsto public expectations of police as the ones that arrest offenders.This means that the media makes available minimal information on howwell police handle crime, resulting in negative attitudes on policeeffectiveness.

Police Brutality

America has a past of omnipresent police brutality (Lopez &ampThomas, 2004). Cases of police brutality often feature in mass mediacontent. When mass media covers police brutality, the public developsnegative views towards the police due to expectations that they couldas well become victims. Public’s confidence in law enforcementdecreases when there is more media representation of police conductthat involves use of force. Research demonstrates that audiences thatget to see incidences of police brutality view the conduct asinappropriate (Langan et al, 2001). Such persons are less likely toreport a crime because they lack confidence in the actions policewill take.

Although studies demonstrate that the public largely depicts supporttowards police, when mass media portrays incidences of policebrutality, audiences are more likely to support the victims (Gregg,2007). This is because the public believes that police are supposedto ensure the wellbeing of civilians, which makes acting contrary apossible cause for the public to question the role of police insociety.

Public attitudes concerning police brutality depend on severalfactors. These are age, race, gender, income and type of community anindividual lives. Research shows African Americans have a morenegative view of police compared to whites (Tyler, 2001). The sameapplies for young people. Males have negative attitudes than females,possibly due to increased media portrayal of males as victims ofpolice brutality. The same case happens for African Americans whohappen to be victims of police brutality.

Due to the higher media representation of young people and AfricanAmericans as victims, audiences falling under the same group areapprehensive of the manner police handle crime. This is because theyfeel that they are potential victims for police brutality. Researchdemonstrates that African Americans suppose that whites get betterpolice treatment, which means blacks are discriminated (Weitzer,2002). Further, is the relevant link amid being black and facingharassment from police (Tyler, 2001). The outcome is AfricanAmericans are more probable to depict unfavorable attitudes towardsthe criminal justice system, especially police.

Research Questions

The research addresses the following questions:

  • How does mass media’s portrayal of crime and justice influence the public’s fear of crime?

  • How does mass media’s portrayal of crime and justice influence attitudes and political behavior on police brutality?

  • How does mass media’s portrayal of crime and justice influence attitudes and political behavior towards police effectiveness?



This research will employ samples obtained from the NationalOpinion Survey on Crime and Justice (NOSCJ). It refers to arandom survey via telephone of adults that live around thecontinental region in America. A cross-sectional survey is applied aswell as stratifies samples to all American counties, in line withevery county’s telephone access within target regions. The surveywill use random digit dialing to attain a higher response rate.

NOSCJ is important in availing knowhow concerning the attitudes of UScivilians on criminal justice issues, which results in improvedcriminal justice guiding principle as well as practice. The surveyevaluates various issues, like the attitudes people have towardspolice, issues like crime in society, courts, prison systems and drugrules among others. Apart from NOSCJ providing information onfundamental demographic traits, the survey determines time spentviewing television news featuring crime, crime shows and differentcrime news sources.


Independent Variables

Fear of crime – the variable will be measured via the use of itemsthat evaluate the respondent’s fear. Respondents to answer onwhether they feel apprehensive concerning sexual assault, gettingkilled, mugged, beaten, fear burglary that may happen when in theirhouses when alone. Every question comprises of four-groupingresponse, which are very often, somewhat often, seldom or never.Following response on the questions, item scaling happens todetermine an index concerning the fear of crime, with a range of tenfor (low worry) and thirty for (high worry). The higher the score,the more fear of crime.

Attitudes on police effectiveness – it is measured by usingquestions, which evaluate the attitudes of respondents. They arerequired to provide responses concerning the capability of police toavoid crime, safeguard, solve crime and respond promptly. Responsesare grouped into perfect, great, little and no confidence. Thequestions are scaled to come up with an index on attitudes towardspolice effectiveness ranging from ten to thirty. When the score ishigh, it is an indication that the respondent depicts confidence inpolice effectiveness, while a low score shows no confidence.

Attitudes towards police brutality – measurement of the variable isby asking respondents to rate their view on police use of force. Theresponses are grouped into high, moderate or no force, which arescaled to create an index ranging from ten to thirty. An index of tenshows that the respondents do not think police are brutal, whilethirty is an indicator of high police brutality.

Dependent Variables

Mass media content – this involves viewing media content thatcontains issues related to crime and justice. It is measured viaquestioning respondents on how much they view crime and justiceprograms. To determine television hours, respondents state the hoursspent watching television on a weekly basis. Respondents also respondto media sources that report more crime news, either print orbroadcast.

Socio-demographic variables – to result in effective measurementof media effects, socio-demographic variables of income, race, genderand residence are added to the evaluation. A scale measures howrespondents view crime response in their residence, police handlingof people depending on race and gender.


The data will be collected by identifying respondents from theNational Opinion Survey on Crime and Justice. Data collectionwill happen through surveys, where after identifying the respondents,they will be called and requested to answer several questions. Datacollection will happen over a one-month period, while the respondentswill be asked different questions every week. Data that is to becollected is on how the respondents view crime as presented in massmedia by determining if excessive media portrayal of crime results infear of crime. The research also collects information on how therespondents rate police effectiveness depending on crime shows ornews that they watch from television. Last, data collection aims atdetermining the public’s view on police brutality, if police useforce when dealing with people of different color, income andresidence.


The study is important because it results in understanding howmedia’s depiction of crime and justice news shapes the attitudesand political conduct the public form towards the criminal justicesystem. The study has a specific focus on how the public will fearcrime after watching crime scenes, programs or news via media. Theattitudes that the public forms when they view media content onpolice brutality. In addition, are the public’s attitudesconcerning the effectiveness of police, which arise from mediacoverage on how well police respond to and handle crime.

The study examines how the media acts as a major influence to thepublic. This is made apparent through mass media’s ability to setagendas for audiences. For instance, when the media decides to covercrimes within a specific locality, the residents of the area are morelikely to fear crime, as they feel susceptible to becoming victims.Media may also choose to depict some people, depending on race orincome, as highly likely to experience police brutality. Individualsfrom the races, as a result, develop unfavorable police attitudesbecause of fear they may become victims of police brutality. Inprospect, the research may focus on including the view of policeconcerning media portrayal of the criminal justice system.


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Chiricos, T., Padgett, K., &ampGertz, M. (2000). Fear, TV news, and the Reality of Crime.&nbspCriminology&nbsp38(3): 755-785.

Gregg, A. P. (2007). Brutal cops, news coverage and publicperceptions of law enforcement: An experimental investigation ofreality construction. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences,1(2), 1-9.

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Scheufele, D.A., &amp Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda setting,and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journalof Communication, 57, 9-20.

Sparks, G. (2006). Media affects research: A basic overview. Belmont,CA: Thomson/ Wadsworth.

Tyler, T. (2001). Public Trust andConfidence in Legal Authorities: What Do Majority and Minority GroupMembers Want from Law and Legal Institutions? BehavioralSciences and the Law19,215-235.

Weitzer, R. (2002). Incidents of police misconduct and publicopinion. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 397-408.