Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Crime report: good news is no news

Greg Barns | The Drum | 18 July 2011

On July 6 the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research issued a media release containing a remarkable statistic.

Household burglaries, a crime that affects in some way or another most of us throughout our lives, had dropped by 50 per cent between 2001 and 2010. The bureau went on to say that cash not cameras were in vogue among burglars these days.

A 50 per cent fall in burglaries is big news in anyone's language. It means that in New South Wales the rate of households being broken into has dropped from 1,200 per 100,000 people to just under 600 per 100,000 in a decade. And this announcement by the bureau is made more newsworthy by virtue of the fact that household burglaries is something communities in New South Wales can relate to because it's an offence that happens in every neighbourhood and in just about every street at some point in a person's life.

Given all of this one would have thought the tabloid media in New South Wales, the Daily Telegraph, the radio jocks like Alan Jones, the commercial news bulletins and their appendages A Current Affair and Today Tonight would have jumped all over the bureau's good news.

After all, the tabloid media in this country runs a steady stream of crime stories week in and week out generally accompanied by screaming headlines and rhetorical flourishes such as "sex fiend", "crime spree" or "the streets of fear".

In other words, stories about criminal justice and criminal activity are used by the tabloid media in New South Wales, and elsewhere around Australia for that matter, to keep the community feeling as though society is breaking down, that they are under siege and that we need more police and mandatory jail terms to rid us of these 'thugs' and 'thieves' who are marauding around the suburbs and towns breaking into houses, and beating up old people.

The tabloid media feeds into exaggerated fears about crime in society. It does not educate its readers, listeners and viewers by presenting them with empirical data about crime rates, instead preferring to dish out a diet of anecdotal horror stories to make people think that they are right to be living in fear.

No wonder the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics yarn didn't get the treatment it deserved from the tabloid media. It is not what the tabloid media is interested in reporting. This is despite the fact that a seriously large reduction in the rate of household burglaries over 10 years is very good news for communities across New South Wales. It means that neighbourhoods are safer, and that perhaps some of the causes for the commission of burglaries are being addressed through therapeutic justice initiatives.

The fact that such a 'beautiful set of numbers' to use Paul Keating's memorable phrase is not given prominent billing by the tabloid media in Sydney and beyond says much about the cynical way in which they manipulate those who are their audience.

It says that the tabloid media is not interested in having a serious, objective and fair discourse with their audience about criminal justice and crime rates. Instead, because of a combination of cynical manipulation, journalistic and editorial laziness and desire to increase advertising revenue, the tabloid media in New South Wales has ignored, except for passing mention, a very big story about the state of crime in that state. What happened to the people's right to know?

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