Publish and be damned

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Sensational crime headlines may well have a large influence on teenage behaviours says Simona Zudyte.

Simona ZudtyeDaily we consume news from a variety of sources without realising that all broadcasting organisations have constructed reports not only to inform, but also to influence its readers. Crime reporting in the media and in particular its sensationalism of crime may well have a large influence on its readers, especially teenagers.

Teenagers are familiar with criminals that appear in the papers on a daily basis and mostly view them in a positive light. Criminal adulation in the media may cause younger readers to glamorise the lifestyle depicted in the articles and perhaps to even pursue it.

Media is a significant force of modern culture, particularly in the developed world. Audiences are bombarded with latest news stories during every step of their way, through various sources such as their mobile phones, newspapers and TV.

Although we are all faced with different articles and the ‘exclusive’ stories throughout the day, how do we filter what we want to read and what not? It all comes down to our interests. Most of the time we carry the same or similar interests from a very young age which may be influenced by our parents or the community we grew up in.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 13.54.14Irish news values are very culturally specific and are historically, often dominated by crime and violence. During the troubles in the North many people became very much atuned to constant bad news. Negative news later moved to gangland crime and other violent crimes. After the 1980s when drug problems became a major issue particularly in the inner-city Dublin, an emergence of gang culture crime reporting came into its own.

With crime reporting expanding in the country, jolly monikers were created for gangland criminals such as ‘Dapper Don’ and ‘Fat Freddie’. This was seen as beneficial for newspapers in order to prevent defamation proceedings against the papers or their writers. Now however these names have become household names and are well known, sometimes even admired by certain avid tabloid readers.

These articles have created fear in some readers and glamorisation of the gangland lifestyle in others. A lot of different opinions can of course be based on cultural and social stratification.

Social stratification is a term used to describe the inequalities that exist between social classes. Although many may see the division as only capital, such as property, it may also be discrimination based on genre, ethnicity, age, religious beliefs, income and education etc.

For better or for worse, ‘status’ remains a major foundation in most of our lives. Irish society is often thought of as a classless society, but in reality Irish society is split into social groups, the boundaries of which can seem impenetrable. In Ireland today the social class system is mainly measured by an individual’s occupation.

Widespread public opinion of people from poorer working class is that they are more problematic and deviant. Rarely is it taken into account that they have severely limited opportunities compared to the so called middle class population.

The growth of drug abuse too has a serious impact on the nature of crimes. In the last few decades the emergence of violent crimes like gangland murders and other vicious attacks are on the increase in Ireland. Information available on the backgrounds of offenders usually suggests that the majority of crimes committed are by young adult working class males.

Following a research carried out by Paul O’Mahony on Mountjoy prisoners, the ‘typical prisoner was a male, had left school before the legal minimum age, had limited experience of the world of work and was likely to have serious emotional and personal problems, such as history of drug abuse or psychiatric difficulties.’

Although crime rates in Ireland remain comparatively small by other European standards, the over reporting of crime news in the media is creating fear in most of their audience. Every day screaming headlines are grazing the front pages of the newspapers, which are designed to frighten, shock and entertain its readers.

Recent research was carried out on two groups of students. The main objective of the research was to find out if crime reports in the newspapers are in any way influential on the youth of Dublin.

The 36 respondents, aged between 15 and 16, were all located in the Dublin region; Group A was based in South Dublin, Group B in North Dublin.

The findings of this research suggested that students were consuming more news via the internet or/ and newspapers than was initially thought. Also the study proves that there is an existing influence on teenagers by media outlets, particularly in areas that are socially deprived. Both groups were asked to write down names of the criminals shown in three separate images that were presented to them.

Criminal A was Brian Rattigan, a leading member of a gang located in South Dublin; currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a rival criminal Declan Gavin.

Criminal B was a well-known underworld figure ‘Fat’ Freddie Thompson. He is a leading member of the Costa del Sol gang led by Christy Kinahan. Freddie Thompson is also the leader of a Crumlin gang, who were feuding with the Drimnagh gang led by Brian Rattigan. This 10-year feud has already claimed over 20 lives.

Criminal C was Alan Ryan, a member of a dissident republican group. He was assassinated on September 4th 2012, on the north-side of Dublin. His murder and his military funeral had dominated the newspapers for a few months.

In Group A nine students out of a total number of 16 could name at least one criminal in the images shown; Freddie Thomson being the best-known criminal. Also all criminals were named by their code names that they have been referred to in the media – all pupils who named Freddie Thompson called him ‘Fat Freddie’ or ‘Fat Freddie Thompson’. Teenagers are therefore not only reading crime news, but absorbing what they read, which may in turn have a negative influence on their choices in life.

In Group B eight students out of 20 could name at least one criminal. Seven students named two out of three criminals. ‘Fat Freddie’ and Alan Ryan were both named by seven students. Alan Ryan was living on the north-side. A lot of newspaper readers from the northern part of the city can associate with Alan Ryan’s class and his locality. ‘Fat Freddie’ is always present in the news and is known to the younger generation. Freddie Thompson appears to have achieved celebrity status among the young.

The social stratum in Ireland appears to be carried from generation to generation and for others, the only way they can see to penetrate a different class, is by getting involved in criminal activity.  Christy Kinahan for example was depicted in the media as the ‘Godfather’ aka ‘The Dapper Don’. He is from a lower working class background who managed – on their terms – to move up in the social classes by getting involved in criminal activity.

The findings of the study show that youth in Dublin, both on the south-side and north-side, are very much familiar with organised crime and the criminals themselves. It could be argued that the information about the gangs is not only received from media, but also from their locality and their friends. Social structure plays a vital role in the lives of these students. They may also be entwined with people who are involved in crime or may feel the urge to get involved due to influence from their family, friends and even the media.

Whatever the myriad of reasons as to why young people become involved in crime, the influence of the media on this journey, can surely not be overestimated. 

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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