Monday, July 28, 2008

Media’s frenzy

This past Sunday, Radio New Zealand National’s “Mediawatch” (Mediawatch for 27 July 2008) documented how New Zealand newspapers and their related websites report on violence and crime far more frequently than many other major newspapers in the world. Although it was an admittedly unscientific content analysis, the picture that emerged was of New Zealand media over-sensationalising the stories and usually providing no context.

This was driven home yesterday when the websites started reporting on a “drive-by shooting,” something that’s since been picked up by TVNZ’s “One News”. However, it was almost certainly not a “drive-by shooting”.

The victim was shot after an argument elsewhere in the town. A fire set later in the town was allegedly set in retaliation. All of which means that there were personal connections between the victim and the assailant. The phrase “drive-by shooting” implies a level of randomness that appears to be missing.

I mention all this because it seems to me that the news media in New Zealand are exaggerating the nature of the crime, which appears to be simply a murder that involved the assailant being in a car, and that doesn’t make it a “drive-by shooting”. Sensationalised coverage of crime and violence leads ordinary people, who are completely unlikely to be a victim of violent crime to begin fearing something that will probably never happen to them.

The issue isn’t the news media reporting on crime. The issue, and problem, is reporting on crime out of proportion to reality (exaggerating and sensationalising), and then failing to provide context. The news media can, and should, do better.


Roger Owen Green said...

So what New Zealand news makes it to page 2 of my American newspaper: ‘Talula Does The Hula’? Parents in Hawaii named their daughter just that, but a family court judge in New Zealand has order that the nine year old girls name be changed.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yes, that story made the news here, too. That and the "jetpack" debut. I suppose real news is too much to hope for.