'Just Waitin' For a Mate': Police Reality Television as a Public Relations Strategy

seminar presented by Dr Alyce McGovern

12pm Thursday 4 August 2016

Oorala Lecture Theatre, UNE


Since the 1980s, a steady procession of television ‘observational documentaries’, with depictions of crime, criminals and the criminal justice system have come to dominate prime-time viewing across the globe. One of the most prolific criminal justice agencies when it comes to this form of programming are the police, who have increasingly opted to partner with television production companies interested in making reality style programs that depict a range of police activities. In Australia there have been no fewer than 15 separate reality style programs focusing on different aspects of policing over the last 20 years. One of the longest running programs, The Force: Behind the Line, has been on air for 11 seasons and counting. These programs see the convergence of both the surveillance and public relations activities of police, as well as the infotainment functions of television. As Mason (2002) and Cavendar and Fishman (1998: 3) have argued, police observational documentaries “blur the lines between news and entertainment; some even blur the line between fact and fiction” (Cavendar and Fishman 1998: 3). Furthermore, such programming serves, amongst other things, to communicate symbolically to the public about police and policing activities more generally. With their capacity to veto content before it makes it to air, police find themselves in a privileged position when it comes to the ways in which information about crime, law and order and policing is disseminated and what in these crime narratives is likely to count as truth in the eyes of the public (McGovern and Lee 2010; Lee and McGovern 2014). This presentation will explore the ways in which police organisations proactively engage with reality television programming, how such activities assist police in meeting various public relations objectives.

Short Biography:

Dr Alyce McGovern is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology within the School of Social Sciences, UNSW Australia. She has researched widely in the area of crime and media, including police-media relations, police use of social media, young people and sexting, and yarn bombing. She is the co-author of Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications (2013 with Lee, Routledge), Sexting and Young People (2015 with Crofts, Lee and Milivojevic, Palgrave) and author of the forthcoming Crafty Crimes: Craftivism, Yarn Bombing and Criminal Crafts (2017, Palgrave). Alyce also recently Guest Edited the Current Issues in Criminal Justice journal's Special Issue on Crime, Media and New Technologies.

launch seminar recording