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Presumption of Guilt

Assistant Professor Justin Pickett (left) and graduate researcher Sean Patrick Roche deal with how media depictions and crime programs impact American's perception of crime and the justice system. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 30, 2016) – When it comes to views on crime and justice, television news exposure appears to play a more important role than internet media accounts, according to a new study led by researchers at the University at Albany’s School of Criminal Justice.

A new paper in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology finds that media depictions on TV news and crime programs systematically exaggerate the blameworthiness of offenders, the deficiencies of the justice system and the threat of crime in society.

Previous studies have shown that exposure to traditional media is associated with greater support for punitive policies, higher confidence in the police, and higher levels of anxiety about victimization. These findings support the cultivation theory – meaning the more time people spend watching television, the more likely they are to believe that reality matches the television world.

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Justin Pickett and graduate researcher Sean Patrick Roche, along with Florida State University Professor Marc Gertz, used four national samples to test how the theory holds in light of the fact that more and more people are receiving their news via the internet.

“Theoretically, one might expect internet news exposure to play a unique role in the formation of attitudes and beliefs,” Pickett said. “Additionally, online news content may be less regulated and can be supplemented with an array of additional information sources.”

Pickett and his colleagues, however, found no evidence that Internet news consumption raises anxiety about crime or support for getting tough with criminals.

“Indeed, even when we break down the groups to investigate differential relationships by audience traits, very few significant relationships emerge. Those that do are negative, the opposite direction of what would be expected on the basis of cultivation theory,” said Pickett.

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