The following blog by Criminal Justice Alliance’s Director, Nina Champion, is cross-posted from CJA’s website.
For those of you looking for an addition to your summer reading list, I have a strong recommendation – ‘You are what you read’ by Jodie Jackson.[i] Jackson, a partner at the Constructive Journalism Project[ii] and one of this year’s CJA Media Awards judges, has spent the last decade researching the psychological impact of the news, finding a negativity bias in reporting that leads to a sense of ‘crisis’ and lack of hope amongst readers.
The NCVO Constructive Voices project highlighted the 2019 Digital News Report, which showed nearly a third of people say they actively avoid the news because it has a negative effect on their mood and they feel powerless to change events.[iii] Constructive Journalism sets itself apart from this, remaining critical, but also seeking to foster conversation, hope and action.
Within criminal justice reporting a negativity bias is all too apparent. Of course, the multitude of issues plaguing the criminal justice system invite criticism, and raising the public’s awareness of the challenges is important. But Jackson argues that explaining the possible solutions is also vital.
The 2017 report Reframing Crime and Justice[iv] also highlighted ‘It’s commonly thought that there is little government or society can do to reduce crime. Communications that dwell on the problems of the criminal justice system, but do not suggest solutions, will trigger fatalism.’ The annual CJA Awards help to combat this negativity by promoting the innovative and effective work of Outstanding Organisations and Outstanding Individuals across the country. (The 2019 awards are now open for nominations!)
The CJA also presents an award for Outstanding Journalism. This year we have worked with a group of experts including journalists, CJA members and people with lived experience to refresh the criteria and nominations process and ensure the award champions journalism that drives the conversation forward.
Why have we done this? Talking with CJA members last summer when developing our strategy[v], there was a recurring theme – the need to positively engage with the public debate about criminal justice and to change public opinion:
‘We need to change public opinion – it can be done. Look at public attitudes to smoking 25 years ago.’
‘The general public are key stakeholders. Rehabilitation is a shared responsibility. We need the public to help people re-connect and not be stigmatised.’
‘We need to leverage support from the public, to bring people with us.’
‘This sector tends to preach to the converted, not those who need to be convinced.’
It became clear that a key element of achieving the CJA’s vision of a fair and effective criminal justice system is through influential communications with the public through the media. Inspired by the Mind Media Awards good practice criteria for mental health reporting,[vi] the CJA’s expert group has developed our own good practice criteria for criminal justice reporting, drawing on constructive journalism and reframing principles. The criteria[vii] include:
- Show what works, not just what is broken.
- Include ‘hidden’ voices and issues.
- Challenge myths and avoid stereotypes, clichés, negative terminology and sensationalism.
- Portray individuals’ experiences authentically, humanely and sensitively.
- Set individuals’ experiences within a wider social policy context.
- Influence and inspire people to think differently, care about the issue and take positive action.
We will promote these principles to the sector and media through our awards and we also plan to work with the National Union of Journalists to produce more detailed guidance on criminal justice reporting. This is a timely piece of work because of the growing interest in the role of the media on public perceptions of criminal justice. For example, the London Violence Reduction Unit’s new strategy includes an objective to ‘change the message around violence’ as they recognise that ‘the way in which issues are represented by the media […] shapes our views and as a result, can shape our behaviour.’
Our expert group also recognised the growing volume and quality of digital media including blogs, vlogs and podcasts, which often allow individuals to bypass traditional media outlets and to develop their own criminal justice related content. We are therefore excited to introduce a new Outstanding Digital Media Champion category to celebrate and promote the growing importance of these mediums.
The judges for the 2019 Media Awards are: Danny Shaw (BBC Home Affairs Correspondent), Raphael Rowe (Reporter for Netflix, the One Show and Panorama), Penelope Gibbs (Author of Reframing Crime and Justice), Jodie Jackson (Constructive Journalism Project) and Nadine Smith (CJA trustee).