By Jon Slattery
Claims that the tabloids are fuelling fears of crime among readers have been rebutted by the Society of Editors.
The claims followed the latest British Crime Survey which revealed that 43 per cent of tabloid readers thought crime had increased “a lot”, compared with only 26 per cent of broadsheet readers.
But SoE executive director Bob Satchwell said the figures should come as no surprise.
“Anyone could have predicted that tabloid readers would be more afraid of crime than people who read the broadsheets,” he argued.
“The ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ who reads The Daily Telegraph or a university lecturer living in a leafy suburb who reads The Guardian are bound to have less fear of crime than someone in an inner city council house.”
Satchwell said the question was too “simplistic” and the answers appeared to suggest the tabloids were to blame for increasing fear of crime.
“Of course the papers can affect readers’ perceptions of crime,” he said. “But just to ask them what papers they read is rather simplistic. You should look at where people live and their socio-economic background.”
Satchwell is concerned the report will be used to justify further restricting the information on crime released to the press, especially at a time when many editors believe new laws such as the Data Protection Act are leading to a clampdown on information from the police that used to be given to the press willingly.
“The best way to give people a proper view is to increase the reporting of crime and by making it more comprehensive,” he said. “One of the problems at the moment is that the concept of the ‘fear of crime’ is reducing the amount of information given to local papers and therefore readers don’t get the full picture. Less crime is being reported today than that 20 to 30 years ago because of legislation like the Data Protection Act.”
The survey, of 40,000 adults, showed that 18 per cent of tabloid-buying interviewees were “very worried” about rape, but the figure was just 7 per cent among broadsheet readers.
For those who said they were “very worried” about other types of crime, the results were: lBurglary – tabloid 17 per cent, broadsheet 9 per cent.
lMugging – tabloid 16 per cent, broadsheet 7 per cent.
lPhysical attack – tabloid 17 per cent, broadsheet 6 per cent.
The survey showed that the number of violent crimes in England and Wales had risen but overall crime rates had remained stable.
It was the first time the BCS has asked interviewees about their newspaper-buying habits.
lThe Society of Editors is to hold a special session on the media and crime at its annual conference in London in October.