News media can influence the system of criminal justice to a significant extent. There are comprehensive studies on the impact of news coverage on developing policies and conducting crime analysis and investigation. In fact, some research even supports the view that modern news media contribute to the development of punitive policies. (Beale, 2006)
Media and law enforcement agencies have several touching points within the context of criminal investigation. Journalists can conduct their own investigations and collect valuable data; they can also disseminate information and keep the public attention focused on the crime. Moreover, news media have a key role in determining the perception of a wrongdoing and its more far-reaching societal and political implications. While the communication or interpretation of the information collected by the police is obviously a standard practice, one should not exclude the possible relevance of journalist-collected data for the official investigator either. At the same time, there is a principle of non-interference with a criminal investigation, which most media personnel tend to follow as a certain type of an unwritten code. (Palmiotto, 2012)
There is a very complicated relationship between the right to access to information and its subsequent dissemination on the one hand and interests of law enforcement on the other hand. The bottom line is that media is not supposed to work for police agencies: their primary goal is simply to inform the public. It is important to acknowledge that not all media are homogenous, and news media, in particular, tend to focus on disseminating only major information about criminal offenses rather than investigating murders and robberies in detail.
Most commonly, media communicates either common knowledge or shares the information provided by law enforcement agencies. Undoubtedly, both print and broadcast media possess a wide range of tools for getting the information in the first place: they might use radio scanners and secondhand accounts. The ground rule is, however, that the interest of effective investigation might prevail over the right to disseminate information. For example, it is common to limit it to the following details: the type of incident, its location, time and date, suspect description, weapons, and the level of injuries. Even the specific elements from the list can be subject to a restrictive access if it serves the interests of the work of law enforcement. (Palmiotto, 2012)
Hence, the intermediate conclusion that can be reached here is that news media have an important role in cooperation with the criminal justice system. However, their use is most effective in the field of communication rather than the collection of data. It is, nonetheless, crucial for police agencies to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships to achieve positive outcomes that serve the interests of criminal justices, among them the creation of the accurate public perception of the law enforcement.
In contrast, in a more specific are of crime analysis, the use of media is rather accidental. Indeed, broadcast and print media can contribute to administrative crime analysis by crime mapping. That is, media can convey information concerning maps depicting areas of crime with relevant statistical data presented in a comprehensible way. Indeed, journalists can even conduct these analyses themselves rather than cite compiled police data, but law enforcement agencies will remain the original source of information for any credible study on crime mapping. (Santos, 2012) In the long run, it only proves the basic rule that news media primarily disseminate crime analysis results rather create the original content.
To sum up, it is not correct to disregard the media’s input in the success of a criminal investigation altogether, but it is important to realize that their role differs from law enforcement agencies. Media exposure can help investigators reach the desired results. For instance, the dissemination of crime pattern information creates incentives for witnesses of the crime to come forward and testify. (Santos, 2012) Thus, media attention and its analytical efforts might be occasionally useful but they do constitute the primary source of analytical data.
- Beale, S. S. (2006). News Media’s Influence on Criminal Justice Policy: How Market-Driven News Promotes Punitiveness, The. Wm. & Mary L. Rev., 48, 397.
- Palmiotto, M. J. (2012). Criminal investigation. CRC Press.
- Santos, R. B. (2012). Crime analysis with crime mapping. Sage.