The Media & Social Discourse of ‘the Victim’
Demand for news: the role of the public
News and victimisation as a commodity i.e. we consume news.
Presentation fulfils demand/insatiable appetite for particular ‘types’ of
TV ratings, newspaper sales, website hits increase for sensational stories
of crime and for those who get the ‘exclusive’.
Issues to consider:
o Unnoticed, absent, undeserving or ‘unappealing’ victims.
o Being an ‘ideal victim’ – person/category of individuals who (when
hit by crime) most readily are given the complete and legitimate
status of being a victim, including those who are perceived as
vulnerable, defenceless, innocent and worthy of sympathy and
E.g. child murder victims.
o How victims use and are used for agendas.
Mass media & crime: background
o Victims in:
Media and CJ discourse.
Development of crime policy.
o News as a genre of ‘truth’ telling.
o News as an ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’ reporting of ‘facts’.
o News as a commodity.
Informing the audience is not the only goal.
Newsworthiness & victimisation
Unequal attention is characteristic of news reporting.
Hierarchy of the ‘ideal’ to ‘non-ideal’ victim.
o Attention, generate change, public sympathy.
o No attention, absent, unnoticed and no change.
Hierarchy of victimisation – describes a pecking order of sorts,
representing the differential status of particular types and categories of
crime victim in media and official discourses, including ideal victims at
the top and non-deserving victims (e.g. habitually violent youths injured
in a drunken fight) near the bottom.
Priorities are judged according to newsworthiness:
o Determining what, how and when to report is informed by the why
i.e. ‘newsworthy’ is informed by news values.
o Impact – sustains, reinforces, produces images of ‘real’ victims.
‘Official’ support for victims may be fickle (many victims/victims needs
not recognised or only some are).
o ‘Victim’ status maybe dangerous and/or limited.
o Politicians, bureaucracies not only entities with vested interest in
victims. o The ‘victim industry’ – range of institutions have an investment –
from the medical and therapeutic professions, to academia, to
mass media to the recovery movement.
o Victims are not always passive and reporting does not always
impact negatively. E.g. Maddie McCann.
Criteria that influence the selection. Production and prioritisation of
events as news.
o Has to be massive e.g. bombing, mass killings, etc.
o Media usually first use shock horror headlines - occasion for all
sorts of narratives to explain what happened.
o The more bizarre the more likely it will be reported.
o Humorous, nostalgic, grotesque more likely to be reported.
o An event that is rare, extraordinary or unexpected it will be
o Equally, a story that is predictable may be deemed newsworthy
because can plan their coverage & resources
o Having already set the news agenda, media agencies will rarely do
an about turn and reframe an issue according to a different set of
Simplification (eliminating shades of grey).
o Must be reducible to a min number of parts and themes. Headlines
have to be short sentences, simple grammatical structure and
often titillating (headline doesn’t’t give you details).
Individualism and personalisation (individual focus or causality).
o Both are aspects of the process of news simplification;
o Personalisation – that stories about people are favoured over
those concerning abstract concepts or institutions.
o Result is that events are frequently simplistically viewed as the
actions and reactions of individuals.
o Individualism - definitions of crime which highlight individual
responses to crime are preferred over complex processes, cultural
and political explanations.
o Most criminals are described as being ‘impulsive, a longer,
maladjusted, irrational, animal-like, aggressive and violent’.
o Emphasises their lack of normative social ties.
Risk (lasting danger).
o Predisposition in newspaper to report crimes if the victim and
offender are strangers.
o Vast majority of serious offences, including murder, rape and
sexual assault, are committed by people known to the victim;
o Yet, media persist in presenting a picture of crime as random,
meaningless, unpredictable and ready to strike anyone at any one
o Children and young people are vulnerable to risk from
‘paedophiles’ and the Internet. o Consequence – presents picture of crime that is meaningless,
random and unpredictable which contributes to a heightened fear
of crime because we think it’s the kind we’re more likely to