In the wake of the recent execution of underworld kingpin Pasquale Barbaro, The Daily Telegraph (16 November 2016, see below) utilised the sensationalist front-page headline “Taking out the trash” to signify his murder. Combined with the tagline “Gangland War on Sydney Streets” on a bloodstained backdrop, The Daily Telegraph effectively panders to the audience by dramatizing the gang war and the death of a criminal character to provoke extensive coverage and ultimately damage the social fabric of the community through unnecessary fear mongering.
Furthermore, the articles utilisation of images to depict the gang war effectively reinforces the “mafia thug” perception, such as incorporating a topless photo of hitman Hamad Assaad communicating an obscene hand gesture, and featuring the magnification of Assaad’s and Barbaro’s tattoos on the front page. This expressly emphasises the media’s role in the continuous creation of fear through negative stereotypes and separation. These images of criminals are real and influential in people’s appraisals of their own security or lack thereof, since frequent exposure to news coverage of crime may lead one to overestimate the probability of personal victimisation.1
The embellishment of Barbaro’s death and the surrounding gang war continues throughout the article, as the subtitle words “Killings to keep coming as fear rises” in large, blood stained text occupies a quarter of the second page, and the newspaper headline on pages 4-5 reads “MURDER WAS IN HIS BLOOD”. This text has undoubtedly been incorporated to increase the capacity of the story to garner attention.
The article further claims this execution is “latest spike in Sydney’s gangland shootings amid fresh warnings the bloody turf wars will claim another innocent bystanders life”. In reality, crime rates in Australia have declined consistently and violent crimes are at an all time low. With the media dramatizing and misrepresenting patterns of violence in their news reportage, it is almost no surprise that the latest Australian Survey of Social Attitudes results reveal “crime is believed to be increasing, violence is thought to be widespread”.2 The predominant fear is wildly disconnected from any actual likelihood of being victimized but as the survey suggests, it bears real effects in promoting anti-social behaviours, garnering support for irrational policies, and reducing trust in the state apparatus, including the justice system and the police.
As the effects of fear are detrimental to individual and societal welfare, the media’s role in clear, informed and factual reporting of crime is paramount to community cohesion and unity. The Daily Telegraph newspaper article detailing Barbaro’s death and the surrounding gang war effectively reinforces the principles of the Hayward’s research paper.
See also: Fear: How the Media Distorts Public Policy
1 Hayward, K. J. (2004). City Limits: Crime, Consumer Culture and the Urban Experience. London: Glass House Press, pp. 248Criminal Justice Review December 2007 32:438-439.
2 David. L.R. (2009) What Australians think about crime and justice: results from the 2007 Survey of Social Attitudes Indermaur Australian Institute of Criminology.pp.iii.