Journalists are making assumptions about crime figures best left to the experts, according to the ex-presenter of Crimewatch.
Nick Ross, who last weekend accused the media of distorting crime figures, told Press Gazette: ‘Most journalists are not experts in this [and] don’t believe that you need to be. We believe that we do understand crime, we believe it is so central to basic journalistic reporting, and of course the cuttings tell us [what we need to know] – that’s where we get our information from.”
Ross, who left Crimewatch earlier this month after 23 years on the programme, said that whereas scientists use specialist journals as their point of reference, journalists use press cuttings that already contain distorted figures, further exacerbating the problem.
Ross used the example of gun crime where the media reported that the number of firearm offences had gone up, but had not qualified that the number of firearm homicides had decreased. ‘Now which is more important? You would have thought if one was interested in one’s readers having an honest appraisal of what was going on in the world, one would have said that as well,’he said.
Ross said that he was not trying to downplay crime levels. ‘I’m not trying to make light of it. I’m just trying to say that we as journalists are not doing a fair and reasonable job for the people who pay our wages.’
But he added: ‘One needs to get journalists to accept that crime figures – however you slice them – do tend to show that crime is not just down by a tiny margin since 1995, but by a huge margin.”
He said the problems with coverage went across all media ‘in terms of risk’and said that it wasn’t just crime, but other areas such as science and health reporting.
Ross said that the competitive nature of news reporting meant it was difficult not to ramp up stories, but that the media was guilty of creating this expectation in its audience.
‘It is difficult to sell what our readers and viewers don’t want to read or see. Once we have conditioned them to this, it is quite difficult, unless something quite dramatic happens, for us to change our tune.”
Critics have been quick to denounce Ross’s comments – with the Mail on Sunday accusing the BBC presenter of ignoring ‘unreported’crime and pointing out the fear that programmes such as Crimewatch instil in their` audience.
‘Does Crimewatch increase fear of crime? Yes, absolutely,’Ross said, adding that his famous ad-lib ‘don’t have nightmares, do sleep well’was intended to emphasise that the crimes featured in the programme tended to be rare occurrences.
‘We do have a responsibility when we cover crime to put it into context. I suppose all I’m asking is for other people to do likewise. Newspapers give a huge amount of coverage to crime and it’s reasonable to ask us to contextualise it fairly.”