Large sections of the media habitually distort, misrepresent and exaggerate the facts on crime, argues this paper.
Between 2000 and 2009, the Australian national murder rate fell by 39 per cent, the national robbery rate fell by 43 per cent, the national burglary rate fell by 55 per cent, the national motor vehicle theft rate fell by 62 per cent and all forms of other theft fell by 39 per cent. Australia is now into its 11th straight year of falling or stable crime rates. Property crime rates in some States are lower than they’ve been in more than 20 years. You might think this a cause for celebration but the vast majority of Australians still think crime is going up. The reason for this is fairly clear. Most people get their information about crime from the media—and large sections of the media habitually distort, misrepresent and exaggerate the facts on crime.
The abuse of crime statistics is so common it has in some quarters engendered great skepticism about them. The saying there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ is probably nowhere more frequently uttered than in the context of crime statistics. Yet whether we like them or not, crime statistics are here to stay. We have to make judgments about the prevalence of crime, about trends in crime, about the distribution of crime and about the impact of Government efforts to prevent and control crime. We cannot base these judgments on personal experience and anecdote. They have to be based on statistical information. The challenge facing those who produce and use crime statistics is how to do so in a way which is not misleading and which helps rather than hinders our understanding of crime. This bulletin is designed to help those unfamiliar with crime statistics to understand their uses and abuses.