chapter  3
12 Pages

Crime time: the rise of police programming on television JENNYWISE AND A LY C E MCGOVERN

Introduction As consumers of popular culture and news programming, we are surrounded by images of crime, law enforcement and the criminal justice system on an almost daily basis. Correlating with the emergence of risk societies (Beck 1992; Horsfield 1997; Ungar 2001), public fascination with crime and justice continues to grow. We only need to think about the almost fanatical way in which the Australian public has consumed the television crime series Underbelly to see this in action. This fascination has only been compounded by the many changes and developments we have seen in the media in recent years. For example, the arrival of the internet and other new technologies has challenged traditional media formats, such as newspapers, and the demand for immediate news content and the reduction of journalist deadlines mean that we now operate under a 24-hour news cycle (Goldsmith 2010; Lewis et al. 2005; R. C. Mawby 2010). Mason (2002) argues that part of the reason we are so fascinated with crime and justice is that most of us have very limited direct contact or experience with these matters, and thus we rely on media reports and representations of them for our knowledge. There is almost a mystique around all things ‘crime’. High-profile Australian individuals such as Roger Rogerson, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read and Carl and Roberta Williams; the UK figure Ronnie Biggs; and those well-known US crime ‘heroes’ Frank Abagnale Jr. and Al Capone have become popular media figures and household names on the back of their real or imagined criminal statuses, and it is often through such individuals that the public can live vicariously. For most of us who have no desire to become criminals (or victims) ourselves, these mediated representations are as close to the real thing as we will ever get. In this way, the media play an important role in defining our social world, and equally have a significant influence on community perceptions about crime, criminals and the criminal justice system.