“Sensationalist” media coverage of knife crime has contributed to an “arms race” among young people, a Commons select committee has found.
The home affairs committee said today that media portrayal of “feral youths” and “young thugs” had made young people feel that a war was being waged against them and that everyone was armed.
The study found that this prompted a “vicious circle” where an increasing number of people carried weapons to protect themselves.
In the report, published this morning, the group of MPs urged media organisations to report on knife crime in a responsible way.
“A perception that everyone else is carrying a knife fuels a vicious circle, compared by one witness to an ‘arms race’,” the committee said.
“Sensationalist media coverage of stabbings has contributed to this.”
The committee’s findings are based on evidence from a range of witnesses including police chiefs, hospital workers and campaign groups.
They found that although it was difficult to estimate how many people carried a knife, most young people who do say it is for “protection”.
“This perceived need for protection is compounded by the sense, reinforced by media coverage of stabbings, that everyone else is carrying a weapon,” the report said.
The committee found that most media coverage of knife crime focused on stabbings that are gang-related or random stranger violence.
Giving evidence to the committee, Shaun Bailey, the founder of youth charity MyGeneration, told MPs: “There has been a certain amount of Hollywoodisation about gangs by the media.”
Another charity, Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, told the committee: “Children tell us that they see so much in the news about knife crime and the way it is portrayed it gives a message that all teenagers are thugs and are armed.”
The committee also said the police need to be better at briefing the media on knife crime.
It gave the example of a Metropolitan Police press release which misleadingly said: “52 teenagers are victims of knife crime EVERY week in London.”
“Responsible reporting is assisted by the provision of quality information,” the report said. “We repeat our past recommendation for the provision of full and accurate crime data.”
But the report also recognised the positive role that the media can play “in mobilising communities and acting as a conduit for anti-knife information and campaigns”.
Ann Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley was stabbed to death at a cash machine in Colchester in 2005, described how the media had helped raise the issue of knife crime up the political agenda.
The report also praised the Daily Mirror for giving practical advice to parents on how to talk to their children about knives.