In Sweden, the readership of the daily press is amongst the highest in the world, and the fear of crime is a commonly recurring theme in the daily papers. Despite this fact, hardly any research has to date been conducted into how the press describes fear. The objective of this study is to examine how the daily press in Stockholm depicts fear of crime, and also to see how crime is portrayed in connection with the description of this fear.
The study begins with a review of a number of theories on the influence of the media, including cultivation theory and the media’s agenda setting function. The selection process that leads to certain crimes being written about in the media is described, as is the way the media depicts crime. The media is coming to focus its attention to an increasing extent on violent crime, fear of crime and crime victims, and a special focus is directed at crimes committed in certain areas.
The material included in the study is drawn from four Stockholm-based national daily newspapers, two broadsheets: Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, and two evening tabloids: Aftonbladet and Expressen. The analysis includes a total of 167 articles published in 2002, which describe crime-related fear/anxiety in Sweden. The method employed in the study constitutes a qualitative, thematic content analysis whose objective is to define different themes. Once the material had been read a number of times, four themes were identified. The first of these themes, “Fear of crime is defined”, examines the way in which the press deals with fear, risk and anxiety. The articles primarily describe fear in connection with crime, but some of them focus on fear in itself and a number of others take up altruistic fear.
The second theme, “Fear of crime is personified”, deals with the groups of people who are described as experiencing fear and the crimes to which these groups are exposed or to which they risk being exposed. The articles focus on women who are afraid of being exposed to violent and sexual offences, and to violent honour crimes. This theme also includes children and youth who experience fear, witnesses and refugees who experience fear, and men who experience fear in connection with their occupations.
The third theme, “Fear of crime is situationalised”, takes up the issue of where the fear is located geographically. Articles about the suburbs are the only ones that have location as the point of departure for their descriptions of crime and fear. Other locations, such as the home and the work place, are also described in a large number of articles, but in these cases the locations are mentioned only in passing.
The final theme, “Fear of crime is contextualised”, discusses articles focusing on the contexts in which the fear of crime is depicted. These are primarily articles focusing on how society has become less safe, but also articles focusing on decreases in the number of police and on the state as a perpetrator of crime.
The study shows that the newspapers describe a large number of people as experiencing fear of crime, and also that they describe fear of crime as being on the increase. Crime is also described as being on the increase and as becoming more brutal; society is described as becoming increasingly unsafe and the police as being unable to protect citizens. The articles also occasionally provide a glimpse of an alternative picture, however. In some of the articles, and in parts of articles, it emerges that not everyone is afraid, and that Stockholm is not a dangerous city. These alternative descriptions are much less prominent that the more stereotypical depictions however.