So far in 2018, the Met has launched over 60 murder investigations, equating to roughly three murders a week. The media are currently reporting on each fatality, meaning that the overall exposure for the problem of violent crime in the capital is vast.
Whilst it is of course extremely important to bring the public’s attention to this epidemic, the question renders as to whether the way that it is being reported on is constructive. A mechanism used regularly by the media, and not just exclusively in covering violence, is sensationalist headlines. An example of this is when The Express and The Times featured the phrase ‘summer of carnage’ among the title of recent articles, quoting a surgeon working in an East London hospital. These kind of headlines serve to create an atmosphere of fear and hostility, leaving communities feeling unsafe and panicked. As well as this, creating a sense of hysteria is not productive in identifying and addressing high crime rates.
It is also interesting to consider why the coverage around violence is so heavy this year compared to last year. It is true that the rates have increased significantly, however 117 people are still reported to have lost their lives in 2017 to violence in the capital, yet it was an issue that was seemingly featured in the press only intermittently. This lack of awareness last year resulted in the media frequently misquoting how many people had been murdered.
An exception to this rule would be The Guardian, which has always been a strong campaigner on combating violence. In a series called ‘Beyond the Blade’, the newspaper was the only title to keep a list of names of all the young people that lost their lives at the hands of violence in London in 2017.
I have, however, seen multiple news sources, for example Sky News, the Sun, and the BBC publish lists of all the murder victims in London in 2018 so far. What kind of message does this present? It could be interpreted that the media are not invested for long term in raising awareness for violence, and it is only when crime rates see an increase, that the victims become important.
An interesting article published by the Independent in April looks at the use of the word ‘gang’, and the impact that this has subconsciously on public empathy for violence. It infers that these murder victims are ‘gangsters’, and therefore immediately allows an individual to distance themselves from them, and possibly even look down on them.
The fact is that public opinions are partly or largely formed by what society digests from the media. If the media are broadly presenting the victims of violence as criminals either consciously or sub-consciously, it is likely that society will never truly care about preventing and tackling violence – and the issue will only perpetuate.
If certain news sources create a sense of hysteria around the issue, this will have an affect on public perception, and possibly put up a barrier for greater understanding and progress being made on what the contributors are and what can be done to inhibit them. It must be acknowledged that exposure from the media can be and has been extremely valuable in bringing the issue of violence into public consciousness, and putting pressure on the government and the mayor to take action in regards to serious crime. It is, however, an extremely complex issue with lives involved and at stake, and therefore the way that it is portrayed in the media needs to respect this – and not be reductive and sensationalist.
With various government strategies underway, hopefully we will see violent crime rates go down. However at this point it will be important that the issue of violence does not completely slip from the agenda, as ultimately the message needs to be that every life matters.
By Sacha Power X JAGS FOUNDATION