The effect of the media representation of crime has become an area of significant research. In the context of Trinidad and Tobago, there has been a considerable volume of work done on this.
Chadee and Ditton (2005) in their research on media and crime in Trinidad and Tobago found that media consumption patterns were strongly influenced by US cultural imports. There was also a similar level of media consumption when compared to the US. For most people, their information about crime came from watching television, followed by newspapers, radio and friends and neighbours. A significant proportion, 70%, listened to radio regularly, the mean number of days per week people viewed prime-time news was 5.5 and respondents viewed a mean figure of 23 hours of TV per week.
Regarding the types of crime found in the Trinidadian media, Chadee and Ditton (2007) found that violent crime against the person was over-represented, while property crimes were under-represented. This is in line with findings elsewhere.
Surette et al (2011) analysed how these levels of consumption and media influenced public attitudes to crime. They conducted a telephone survey of 570 respondents in Trinidad and Tobago in 2005. The research explored the links between media consumption and support for either preventive or punitive criminal justice policies. The findings suggested that ‘for Trinidadians, support for punitive policies was significantly related to perceiving television crime dramas as realistic and crime news as accurate.’
The authors concluded that while the media played a similar but not particularly strong role in influencing levels of support for preventive or punitive policies, what was more important than the volume of media consumed was the perceived credibility of the media consumed. So, for example, seeing crime news as accurate and television crime dramas as realistic, influenced opinion on criminal justice policy.
The death penalty is a topic that attracts sustained interest in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, as this TV segment from CNMG’s ‘First Up’ programme, with Greater Caribbean for Life’s Leela Ramdeem demonstrates.