Crime Stories

One of the most controversial television news program types is the crime tabloid news format.  Very often, these programs garner very large viewing audiences.  It can be inferred that such programs satisfies some form of need.  When the nation watches the mayhem and violence reported on these programs, people receive confirmation that society has gone amok and rejoice that these terrible events did not visit them personally, at least not this time.

The critics of these crime tabloid programs are many.  Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo declared, "Let us stop giving violence so much emphasis, which only seems to exalt and encourage it.  Let us not become accustomed to seeing violence as something normal."  As much as people all say that they hate these programs, their popularity seemed unabated.

We should note that there are in fact different styles within the category of crime news.  Here is a quick comparison of a couple of popular Mexican crime tabloid programs --- Ciudad Desnuda and A Través del Video.  In the case of Ciudad Desnuda, the emphasis is on authentic footage which are recorded live.   The broadcast stories may then be limited to those situations in which the camera was present.  For that reason, some of the stories may seem lacking in weight, but they seem easier for people to identify with. 

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By contrast, A Través del Video seems to screen for significant stories. In fact, the show encourages viewers to call in with cases of their own. Consequently, the stories are more lurid and interesting.  Quite often, there is no video footage of the principal characters or events themselves, and it becomes necessary to stage re-enactments performed by actors/actresses, or even by the principals themselves.

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In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1997 study, we found that 27% of all persons between the ages of 12 and 64 watched crime news regularly.  In the following table, we show the breakdown  by different population groups.  

Population Group % Watched Crime News Regularly
Argentina 23%
Brazil 34%
Chile 33%
Colombia 22%
Mexico 20%
Puerto Rico 54%
Venezuela 27%
Balance Central America 40%
Balance South America 15%
Male 12-64 28%
Female 12-64 27%
Persons 12-17 27%
Persons 18-24 30%
Persons 25-34 29%
Persons 35-44 29%
Persons 45-54 22%
Persons 55-64 24%
Education 6 years < 29%
Education 6 - 12 years 27%
Education 12+ years 26%
Socioeconomic Level A 33%
Socioeconomic Level B 33%
Socioeconomic Level C 26%
Socioeconomic Level D 25%

Although there seems to be a regular audience for crime news, this proves to be one instance when the success of a program is not determined by audience size alone.   What happened is that advertisers stay away in droves, as many consider it inappropriate for advertising their brands on such a program.  At the same time, the crime programs are criticized heavily by government officials, cultural critics and academic researchers for promoting violence and mayhem.  Thus, in November 1997, TV Azteca's Ciudad Desnuda and Televisa's Fuera de la Ley were both taken off the air.  Yet, it seemed hypocritical to place the blame solely on television, as the nota roja has always been an accepted tradition in the Mexican newspaper industry.

(posted by Roland Soong on 5/21/98)

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