For most people, the main source of their knowledge about the police, crime and the criminal justice system comes from the media.
The role that the media play in shaping public perceptions of crime and criminality, and framing debates about criminal justice and responses to crime, is therefore undeniable.
For these reasons, questions of media influence have become a prominent aspect of criminological theorising and inquiry. Over the last forty years, many criminologists have explored the ways in which the police, offenders, victims of crime and the criminal justice are portrayed and argue that such representations are ‘distorted’, sensationalist or stigmatise certain vulnerable or marginalised communities.
As a former TV scriptwriter, who had spent a large chunk of her working life writing for a cop show, I was fascinated by this: why were we as writers telling stories that were so apparently ‘unrealistic’ and why were we leaving key elements out of the picture?
Why, for example, do we tell stories about the police as crime-fighters, when in reality this is such a small part of what they really do? Why do we concentrate on violent or sexual crime in our stories and did we ever stop to think what effect we might be having on our audiences? And why did we stigmatise certain social groups in these reports, particularly Black and Brown people, or other marginalised or vulnerable groups?
This, in a nutshell, is what my work is about: understanding the stories we tell as scriptwriters or crime journalists, about crime, about the criminal justice system and about the society in which we live – and why so many key elements are left out of the picture.