Study: Crime Coverage Unbalanced

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Network television coverage of crime fell nearly 40 percent last year, but the subject still gets too much attention, a study asserted Tuesday.

Researchers said crime was the biggest story of the 1990s, even during a time when the overall rates for violent crime were dropping.

Reporters ``paid careful attention to the who, what, when and where of crime scene coverage, but little to the important context of why that can help viewers and policy makers make sense of crime and develop thoughtful solutions,'' said Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute, one of three groups involved in the study.

Schiraldi recommended that news organizations more closely monitor their content and put crime into context by reporting more wide-ranging crime trends, even as a part of stories about individual crimes.

The report, ``Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News,'' included an examination of 77 media-related studies done from 1910 until now.

Homicide coverage on network news increased 473 percent from 1990 to 1998 while homicides decreased about 33 percent during that time, the report said. It based that finding on available data from the Center for Media and Public Affairs and federal crime statistics.

In the 1990s, the center catalogued 135,449 stories on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts, and crime was the biggest topic with 14,289 stories, the report said.

Crime coverage declined 39 percent in 2000 but remained the third most frequent topic on network news, the report said.

The report also said minorities too often are portrayed as perpetrators and are underrepresented as victims.

A study of an Indianapolis newspaper, for instance, found that if a suspect in a violent crime was black, the average article length was longer.

A spokesman for The Indianapolis Star said executives there had not yet seen the study and could not immediately comment on it.

Schiraldi said the attention to violent crime in newspapers and on television may have prompted 47 states to pass tougher juvenile crime laws

The study, commissioned by a youth advocacy group, Building Blocks for Youth, was carried out by the liberal-oriented Berkeley Media Studies Group and Schiraldi's Justice Policy Institute, which supports alternatives to prison.

The study was paid for in part by a grant from the Justice Department and financial support from private foundations.

Media groups, responding to the assertions, said that their news coverage was based on public interest in crime.

``Just as in all private companies, there are some incidents of racism but the focus on youth crime is due in part to the school shooting phenomenon,'' said Michael Hamilton, director of the California Broadcasters Association. ``It has generated an intense interest in the subject.''

Advocates for minorities said they were not surprised by the conclusions.

``When we are covered, we are covered as criminals or illegal immigrants. People are scared of a group of brown people hanging around because of the image that has been portrayed over and over in the media,'' said Angela Arboleda, a policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization.