Essay: Media Publicity Coverage of Violent Criminals Celebrities

Pages: 7 (2292 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

Media Obsession With Violence & Celebrity

Television news programs today are letting the public down by obsessing over violence, rape, kidnapping, and other seamy acts of inhumanity towards humans. Also, television news is preoccupied with celebrities -- sexual scandals, drug usage and drinking habits -- and any doubt about this assertion can be easily put to rest through a check into recent coverage of the Tiger Woods sexual scandal. Whether it is local or national network news, or cable TV news programs (MSNBC, CNN, FOX, et al.) the emphasis on Television news segments tends towards what is racy, scandalous, sexy, seamy, violently bloody -- or horrifying. This situation is additionally troublesome given the fact that newspaper publishers are losing readership and ad revenue at an alarming rate and some big city newspapers are being forced out of business. This narrows the field for information so more people than ever are left with television, the Internet, and radio as their main source of news and information. The solution for television's shoddy treatment of news is for more legitimate journalists (not just celebrity hunters on TMZ, or "ambush reporters" and the like) to present legitimate news on the Internet, on blogs -- and on local community-affiliated public television networks.

Proof: One part of the problem is the potentially harmful affects on children

"Television news is filled with violence and suffering," according to Juliette H. Walma van der Molen (PhD). Writing in the June 2004 edition of the journal Pediatrics, van der Molen asserts that "Local news, which is widely used by Americans, is often found to overemphasize brutal crime" and local news also relies "heavily on sensational presentations of violence." Moreover, the writer mentions that analyses of major network newscasts have shown "that crime and violent world events are among the most frequently covered topics" (van der Molen, 2004, p. 1771).

Because children depend on television for their understanding of world events and because "they watch more news broadcasts than many parents and other caregivers might think they do" van der Molen believes children "of all ages" may be "regularly confronted with highly distressing and violent accounts of murders, catastrophic accidents, war, and other suffering" (p. 1771). Van der Molen is bothered by the fact that studies on children and television violence tend to focus on entertainment shows, and not on the vicious violence on news programs.

Pertinent research van der Molen presents includes studies showing "more realistic portrayals of violence may heighten levels of involvement and aggression" such as "immediate fright reactions," "fear of the world as a scary place," and "desensitization" (p. 1772). Frequent watching of violence in news programs -- programs that overemphasize terror, violent crime, war and domestic violence -- "could enhance long-term observational learning of violent schemas or scripts" (van der Molen, p. 1772). The horrifying reality of children watching hours of violent news programs is that the programs could make young viewers "less sensitive to other people's distress" and also "more accepting of violent behavior" (p. 1772). With today's ever-growing obsession on "sensationalist and violent news stories" and the new "journalism" style of blurring news and entertainment, parents and caregivers should be alerted to the fact that most news programs are not adapted to "children's cognitive level and emotional experiences" (p. 1773)

One solution suggested in this article is for leaders and doctors to advise parents to carefully monitor their TV news consumption -- in particular children under 8 years of age who are simply not mature enough to deal with violent TV news (p. 1773). Also, pediatricians should lobby at the national level for the creation of a nationwide daily news program "that makes the main news comprehensible to young viewers" (van der Molen, p. 1773).

The problem of violent TV news programs isn't new; in fact an article in the American Journal of Public Health (Dorfman, et al., 1997) published a study that included newscasts on 12 days in 1993, one newscast each from 15 southern California network affiliates and local TV stations. A total of 214 hours of news programs included 8021 news stories. "Violence was the single most frequent story topic," Dorfman writes. There were 783 stories that involved both violence and youth; 444 stories on crimes "included shootings, abductions, and child abuse and neglect" (Dorfman, p. 1312). One hundred and eight stories were about murder cases (many of them about the Menendez brothers, who were accused of murdering their parents) and 74 stories were about crime in schools (vandalism, shootings, and sexual assault on students by teachers).

The point in this article is the prevalence of violence on TV newscasts, but the authors go on to note that "much more television news is produced locally than nationally" so blame falls on local and regional newsgathering rather than national network producers. An interesting sidebar story to this article is that in 84% of the violent stories "the context in which the violence occurred was ignored or deemphasized." So children see the results of the crime but do not understand the context. Also, the report points out how violence and crime can push other non-violent news stories off the news broadcast. To wit, a teenager who stole from an ice cream truck got the same number of stories as the President's AmeriCorps program, which of course features young people doing positive, helpful, unselfish things in communities where needs are not being fully met.

Proof: Many local TV stations are using news others have produced

In the Columbia Journalism Review (Downie, et al., 2009) the writers place some of the blame on the fact that "the number of TV stations producing local news of their own is steadily shrinking"; stations are picking up news that other providers have produced. Some 205 stations around the U.S. use newscasts "produced by other stations in the same cities" (Downie). In fact the ABC affiliate in St. Louis, KDNL, and WYOU (serving Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania) "have dropped local news altogether"

Proof: People of all ages are subjected to TV news violence

Paul Kite with the Rocky Mountain Media Watch explains that the seventy-five percent of Americans who regularly watch TV news "are subjected to a substantial nightly dose of catastrophe" (Kite, 1999). And though journalists understand the "enormous power" their broadcast programs have on the public, and yet "the news industry has no ethical guidelines for airing violent images." The obsessive portrayal of violence on TV news has generated "copycat crimes, including mass murder, terrorism, hijackings, workplace violence, product tampering, hate crimes and suicide" (Kite, p. 2). Kite goes on to assert that studies link "violent video" with "violent resolution of conflict" by those watching the TV news. Violent news video "encourages aggressive behavior and diminishes empathy for victims" (Kite, p. 2).

TV's power to influence behavior "attracts billions of advertising dollars" Kite goes on, and because of the repetition of news stories involving violence, "gruesome images have been burned into our brains" (Kite, p. 3). People in marketing call it "arousal" which helps move the merchandise advertised on TV news programs, Kite insists. What to do about TV news violence? As Dorfman suggests, the crimes that are shown should be placed in some kind of context. Kite says "explain the cruelty, don't just film it. In real life, violence has consequences" (Kite, p. 4). Also, broadcasters should be educated about their power "for harm" and the industry should develop standards for dealing more ethically with "potentially hazardous material" (Kite, p. 4).

What caused these problems? A deeper problem than just over-reporting of violence

The problem goes quite a bit deeper than local stations running a high percentage of violent stories. The problem is that journalism itself has lost its glow as a believable industry. Journalism has slid downhill in terms of its prestige, and there has been a serious "decline of reporting," according to long-time CBS news reporter Tom Fenton. In his book (Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All) Fenton relates to the loss of credibility that the news media experienced in Washington D.C. during the George W. Bush presidency. When Ken Auletta of The New Yorker was allowed to come into the White House for an "inside look at the Bush Administration and the press, he concluded 'that senior staff members saw the news media as just another special interest group who agenda was making money, not serving the public'" (Fenton, p. 15). Fenton doesn't see that remark as a "snipe at the Bush administration's habit of holding the press at bay" but rather, Fenton sees surveys that suggest "the public agrees" with what Bush senior staffers said about the media.

Frankly, the media is just not doing its job period, Fenton asserts. What Americans get from their news programs is "commentary and political sniping, rather than broader coverage of foreign events, or on fresh investigative reporting" or even explaining to Americans what is really going on in the "wider world" (Fenton, p. 17).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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