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MASS MEDIA

A medium serves as a conduit through which communication is transmitted. Mass media are large-scale and formally organised technologies of communication. They are distinguished, first, by their ability to enable a small number of people to speak to many thousands or millions of individuals. Second, by its very nature, mass media communication is a one-way process, with audiences able to receive but not respond to communication. Mass media first developed in the form of print culture in the

seventeenth century and grew rapidly during the era of industrialisation. The twentieth century saw a massive expansion of both the number and range of mass media, with the emergence of cinema, radio and television. Western industrial societies can be viewed as media-saturated, with inhabitants relying on these modes of communication for news, information, education and entertainment. Consequently, such media have formed a major focus across the social sciences, as they are seen to play a key role in shaping people’s understandings of self, identity and the wider world. The power and influence of the media can be analysed from a number of different theoretical standpoints. Liberal and pluralist positions view the media as offering a diversity of competing perspectives from which audiences can select in order to construct their own understandings. In contrast, Marxist and critical theorists argue that the mass media converge on a set of common political and cultural viewpoints that help to reproduce the power of dominant classes. Criminology has been interested in the mass media on a

number of levels. First, analysts have examined the ways in which the media represent the nature and extent of crime problems. Numerous studies have highlighted the fact that media tend to consistently over-report crimes that in reality are quite rare (especially violent and sexual offences). At the same time, there is an under-reporting of those crimes that are the most commonplace (such as property crimes) and those associated with powerful social actors (such as corporate and white-collar crimes). In extreme instances, such distorted reporting may induce moral panics about particular forms of criminal activity. Second, criminologists have explored the role played by mass media in constructing stereotypes of criminality, thereby depicting certain groups (such as youth, minority ethnic groups and foreigners) as a fundamental threat to security and social order. Thirdly, criminal psychology has focused upon whether and to what extent media representations of crime, sex and violence

might reinforce or encourage lawbreaking behaviour (the so-called effects debate). The development of media and cultural studies has shaped in sig-

nificant ways criminology’s interest in media and their impacts. With the recent emergence of cultural criminology, media analysis has come to figure centrally within the discipline today.