The principal objective of this study is to provide a concrete historical illumination of the interplay between the media, crime and crime policy over the course of the last 50 years. A further important objective is to identify the boundaries of a field of research, ëmediated crimeí, lying between criminology and media studies, and to show how these two disciplines can stimulate one another.
A critical examination of criminological and media studies theories on the relationship between crime policy, the media and crime indicates that, given the objectives outlined above, the most fruitful theories are those based on an institutional approach, that employ a contextual constructivist and historical perspective. The moral panic perspective lends itself particularly well to adaptations in this field of enquiry.
A longitudinal study of crime journalism covering the period 1915 to 1955 examined crime texts from a one-week period every tenth year in four national daily newspapers. One of the major findings was that the crimes referred to vary over time in a way that cannot simply be explained by crime trends. A further series of contextualised, cross-sectional studies of the years 1955, 1975 and 1995, have focused on the discourse relating to the young offender and societal responses to youth crime. The legislative reform relating to the introduction of community service was included in the study of the year 1995. The media treatment of the juvenile crime issue is analysed in relation to crime policy documents. Several methods are employed, principal among them being a context oriented discourse analysis. The findings from the cross-sectional studies are presented in three time tableaux, where the focus is directed at synchronous relationships.
In 1955, journalism served the notion of the national welfare state. There is a high degree of consensus between media content and crime policy. The period is characterised by an optimistic faith in the integration of young deviants into society. By 1975, journalism has become more independent. In both the media and the field of crime policy, there is criticism of the prison system, but also a spirit of optimism in relation to the possibilities offered by treatment programs. In 1995, journalism is a central social institution where the essentials of crime policy are dealt with and played out. Actors with an effective media strategy are able to create a major impact through the media at the same time as the media, on the basis of their own initiatives, have a large impact on the political sphere. The media are characterised by a tangible spirit of pessimism in relation to both the future and the possibilities offered by treatment, and this is linked to depictions of a youth culture of violence.
One important finding is that changes in crime policy are better understood when one looks to the institutional interplay between crime policy and the media. The use of the term media panic is proposed as a more widely applicable concept than the moral panic, to relate to all forms of media constructed panic and hate phenomena that are of significance for the way society deals with crime.