The Role of the Media in the Fear of Crime: A Qualitative Study in the Portuguese Context

Published date01 September 2023
AuthorCynthia Silva,Inês Guedes
Date01 September 2023
Subject MatterArticles
The Role of the Media in the
Fear of Crime: A Qualitative
Study in the Portuguese
Cynthia Silva
and Inês Guedes
The present study, using a Portuguese sample, is aimed at understanding how the media shapes the
fear of crime experiences. Concretely, we explored how individuals interpret the content transmit-
ted by the media and how these perceptions inuence the fear of crime contextually situated. It was
also our aim to explore if the area of residence (rural and urban), as well as certain sociodemo-
graphic characteristics (such as gender), were important in the way meanings are attributed to
the media in experiences of insecurity. In total, 20 semi-structured interviews were undertaken
(n =12 women; 13 from rural areas and 7 from urban areas). Among the relevant results found
in the present study, one of the conclusions we can highlight is that it is not possible to establish
a clear relationship between media consumption and insecurity feelings. Indeed, media do not totally
shape the fear of crime experiences, as a panoply of meanings has emerged, which makes their inu-
ence differential. Thus, aspects such as the sensationalism, the location of the reported crime, the
realism of the news and the proximity to the event are examples of factors that emerged with great
relevance in this investigation. In short, this study allowed the authors to reach a depth and diversity
of meanings of insecurity, through several approaches that were the basis for their understanding
and conrms the relevance of studying this theme from experiences and discourses using qualitative
media, fear of crime, qualitative approach, interviews, meanings, experiences
School of Criminology, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Crime, Justice and Security (CJS) School of Criminology, University of Porto, Porto,
CEJEA, Lusiada University, Norte, Portugal
Corresponding Author:
Inês Guedes, Faculdade de Direito da Universidade do Porto, Rua dos Bragas 223, 4050-123 Porto, Portugal.
Criminal Justice Review
2023, Vol. 48(3) 300-317
© 2022 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168221088570
We have seen a huge spread of information about crime in the news, such as on social networks,
blogs or other sources, appearing either in the form of text or images (Srinivasa & Thilagam,
2019). On television, for example, there are two main reasons why crime is increasingly prevalent:
rst, crime is linked to fear, a basic element of the entertainment format; and, second, crime and vio-
lence are clearly easy topics to cover (Soola, 2007), and are faster, cheaper and more efcient topics
for television stations (Altheide, 2003). Fear of crime, broadly dened, is a multidimensional phe-
nomenon that includes emotional, cognitive and behavioral manifestations to crime or symbols asso-
ciated with crime (e.g., Gabriel & Greve, 2003). There have been diverse explanations to address
why certain groups or places fear more than others. These explanations are nested into individual
(such as sex or gender), contextual (for instance, lack of street lighting or simply darkness) and
social models (such as collective efcacy). Among them, previous literature has focused on the rela-
tionship between fear of crime and the media, using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies
(Cashmore, 2014; Chadee, 2001; Chadee & Ditton, 2005). In 2004, after a review on the linkage
between fear of crime and the media (newspaper and television consumption), Ditton and colleagues
found that 41% of the studies found a positive relationship between those variables, but 59% did not.
Later, Chadee and Ditton (2005) focusing on Trinidad, stated that that the results clearly indicate
that there is no relationship between fear of crime and the media(p. 329).
Nevertheless, according to some authors, such as Leal (2010, p. 397), the mass media have
become a powerful vehicle for transmitting messages essential to the cohesion of individuals and
the structuring of their own identity. Thus, if the media play an informative and entertainment
role, and if part of its agenda is made up of crime-related news and content, it may be relevant to
understand, through qualitative methodologies, how these messages are received and interpreted
and what role they will play in the fear of crime. Therefore, in the present study, qualitative in
nature, we used semi-structured interviews looking to explore these meanings in order to understand
how the place where individuals live (rural or urban) and the relationships they establish in this
context inuence their perception of the media and the role of news in the fear of crime.
Specically, in the rst place, (a) this study aims to analyze the consumption habits of media and
social media, namely the type of sources and content most consumed. In other words, it aims to
explore the perceptions about the role that the media plays in society and about the way news are
transmitted, as well as the factors that inuence these meanings; (b) secondly, this study explores
the consequences of the consumption of media in the fear of crime (in its different manifestations);
(c) thirdly, it is intended to investigate what meanings are attributed to (in) security and the way in
which it is perceived and experienced from the physical, social and fear contexts; and nally, (d) it
seeks to explore the role that direct and indirect victimization experiences have in the fear of cri me.
Regarding the structure through which this article will be developed, rstly the crucial concepts
for exploring the theme will be dened, followed by the main prominent theories of literature, with
some later considerations about the fear of crime, and further on, about the media. Next, the meth-
odology of the present study will be described in detail. To conclude, the main results will be pre-
sented and discussed, ending with a reection and implications of the study.
Theoretical Background
Denition of Fear of Crime
The scientic community has been following two different understandings when referring to the
concept of fear of crime (Vandeviver, 2011). One the one hand, fear of crime is conceived in a
restricted way, corresponding to the emotional dimension to crime or symbols associated with it
Silva and Guedes 301

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