Impact of Mass Media on Crime

After a slew of media reports on gang rapes and other sex crimes against women in the public space, there has been a good amount of TV debate and newspaper write ups and social media activity, on the issue of inadequacy of safety in public spaces, for women in India. Police, being the state agency responsible for public safety, has been the focus of such debates and chatter, if not directly, then certainly indirectly.

I recently read a 1983 research paper, ‘Effects of Mass Media Violence on US Homicides’ by David P Phillips, University of California, which quantified the rise in violent crimes, like homicides in the US, immediately following all popular and widely telecast boxing fights between 1973 and 1978. The study showed a 12.46% rise above average, in homicides within 3 days of the telecast championship fights and a 6% increase 4 days later.  If merely watching championship fights on TV can significantly affect the volume of criminal violence taking place in society, then the sexual attitudes towards women and the violence portrayed in our films and music and advertisements, must be having a significant impact on the viewers’ minds-enough to create an unsafe environment for women in homes as well as public places. We, as a nation, are not, however, debating this larger issue which could be triggering the spate of sexual violence against women, and instead only looking for the band-aid of better policing.

Though the sexual attitudes and violence projected in past and present Indian cinema and commercials, would be significantly influencing the viewers’ behavior and attitudes, by the normal psychological impact of ‘imitation’, the related governance issues like ‘creative freedom’ are not easy to tackle in public policy.  I wonder then, what solution can emerge for this problem-of attitude towards women- in our existing social environment. Aamir Khan’s very popular TV program  ‘Satyamev Jayate’,  has taken advantage of the same powerful impact of media, to create a positive social mindset for more equality for women. Similarly,  an Indian made you-tube video, ‘Its your fault’ which is a satire on attitudes on rape, has gone viral on the internet. I think we need to focus on many many more such media projections to change social attitudes towards women. It will have a more permanent impact than focusing only on the deterrent but short term effect of post facto police actions.

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4 thoughts on “Impact of Mass Media on Crime

  1. There is a scientific question and there is a policy question.

    It is an interesting scientific question. But suppose the answer was YES. Suppose violent movies incited people to violence.

    What are we going to do about it? The only reasonable answer is: Nothing.

    E.g. we know that religion has been a great source of violence for millenia. But we don’t ban religion or otherwise interfere in it. (The same religious tracts that incite some people to violence leave others untouched).

    In a liberal democracy there should not be any interference in free speech which includes all cultural / artistic / entertainment materials, EVEN IF we had hard research evidence that there was an impact on violence. We hold a person responsible for behaving sensibly – regardless of the influences upon him such as movies watched.

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    1. Ajay, thanks for your response. I fully agree that this scientifically validated causality relationship between violence shown on mass media and the resultant effect on social violence, should not be dealt with the heavy hand of regulatory interference in free speech. I have the same concerns when I say that ‘the related governance issues like ‘creative freedom’ are not easy to tackle in public policy’.

      Therefore, my point was that solutions to the problem lie with better use of the same mass media to affect social behavior. Changing the focus of discussions in the media towards social attitudes towards women, more engagement of the creative community of cinema and advertising to reach a wider audience with this issue, and from the establishment side, more policy stress on attitude education in schools and colleges, seem the way to go.

      So this is one area which will require a long term engagement from both-the people and the Government. Not a problem for only short term solutions like better policing. In an environment where there is social equality for women, crimes against women will not be so rampant.

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    2. While I agree with what you say about freedom of thought and speech, I feel that with every right, comes greater responsibility.
      If I have the right to free speech, I have to have the responsibility to ensure that it doesnt harm society. Otherwise the very fabric of civilisation will be torn apart.
      Therefore if I show violence on screen, or show a ‘cool’ guy smoking, or indulging in sexual misbehaviour, it becomes my responsibility to also portray that these are undesirable facets of a person. If a person tries to imitate that behaviour, it is in a sense due to my movies/plays/books and therefore I am responsible in part.

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  2. Agree absolutely.. in fact eve teasing is glorified in Hindi cinema. If the girl says ‘no’, the hero persists till she finally gives in.. this is seen as an example of true love! but the girl has no choice… she has to give in.. This kind of thinking makes men believe that the girl has no right to refuse.. as seen by the spate of acid attacks on girls.Maybe all of us can in our own small way, and in our own small worlds, influence those around us to respect women. our children, our colleagues, people working for us.. etc

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