Story: Crime and the media

Crime does pay, for the media at least. People’s fascination with crime, and their fear of it, draws readers and viewers to news stories about crime. In the 21st century prime-time television was filled with crime, including in dramas and reality television shows.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Broadcaster Tony Veitch talks to media after his sentencing for assault

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Crime news

The news is full of stories about crime. Because people are generally fascinated by crime, the media knows it will draw viewers to their programmes, and readers to their newspapers and websites.

The police sometimes use the media to help gather information about crimes.

Crime reporting and public perceptions

Only 18% of crimes reported to the police are violent crimes, such as murder or assault. But these are the crimes that the media focuses on, especially if they are unusual or bizarre. Property crimes such as burglary, which are half of reported crimes, are not often covered.

Because of this, surveys often indicate that people believe crime rates are increasing, even when they are not.

Controls on reporting

There are rules about media reporting on crime, including:

  • not defaming anyone (ruining someone’s reputation by claiming bad things about them which are untrue)
  • not publishing the names of anyone whose names have been suppressed by the courts
  • following rules when filming in court, such as not filming the public or members of the jury
  • following Broadcasting Standards Authority rules.


Newspapers were the first mass media. Mainstream newspapers reported murders, but didn’t cover sexual crimes until later in the 20th century, as they became more sensationalistic.

Crime on television

Crime stories are often covered in television news. Crime is also a popular subject for television dramas and reality television shows.

Criminals in culture

Some criminals have become part of folklore. One example is James Mackenzie, who stole 1,000 sheep in 1855. The Mackenzie Country, in South Canterbury, is named after him.

New Zealand films made about real-life crimes include:

  • Beyond reasonable doubt (1980), about Arthur Allan Thomas, who was jailed for nine years for murder, but was later pardoned after it was found police had planted evidence
  • Heavenly creatures (1994), about Christchurch teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, who murdered Pauline’s mother in 1954.
  • Out of the blue (2006), about a 1990 massacre at Aramoana, where David Gray killed 13 people.
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Crime and the media', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 February 2023)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 4 Apr 2018