Media discourse is saturated with crime. Crime consumes an enormous amount of media space as both entertainment and news. Whether it be TV cop shows, crime novels, docudramas, newspaper articles, comics, documentaries or 'real life' reconstructions, crime, criminality and criminal justice appear to have an endless capacity to tap into public fear and fascination. Indeed much of our information about the nature and extent of crime comes to us via the secondary source of the media. We should expect, then, that they play a significant role in our perception and understanding of the boundaries between order and disorder. But despite the powerful 'commonsense' view that news media merely provide the facts of a process in which crime occurs-police apprehend criminals and courts punish them-the relationship between crime and media reportage is far from simple.
This chapter is written in the context of an ongoing debate over the complexities of media content, news sources and media effects. In the 1960s and 1970s a critical media analysis alerted us to the ways in which crime news is not only a cultural product but the result of a particular configuration of institutional definitions and priorities. Media, political and criminal justice discourses, it was argued, share a hidden ideological consensus, reproduce the same crime agenda and deliver the same message. In the process, fears of crime and disorder are exacerbated, legitimating a shift to an authoritarian law 'n' order society (Hall 1973a). By the 1990s, this 'media as hegemonic' stance was substantially revised by detailed empirical studies which revealed a plurality of competing voices battling to gain media access. It was stressed that no direct relation existed between media discourse, public opinion and political action. Each was dependent on a wide variety of subtle, diverse and contingent relations (Ericson 1991; Ericson, et al. 1987; 1991). At the same time a postmodern imagination emerged which claimed that in a forever growing 'mediatised' world crime narratives generate an 'insecure security' in which it has become increasingly impossible to draw clear boundaries between media image and social reality (Barak 1994; Osborne 1995).
This chapter sets these debates in the context of the 'youth crime problem' of the 1990s and in particular the political fallout from the murder of James