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Producers of true crime content should be more careful with how they treat the subject matter.

True crime content should be held to higher ethical standards

As with any other topic, the ethics of true crime content consumption is a subject of heavy debate. I find the energy surrounding these shows unethical for the most part. These shows have become incredibly popular worldwide, captivating audiences of all ages. However, there are ethical concerns associated with both their production and consumption. Here are seven reasons why I find the consumption of true crime shows unethical: the exploitation of victims and their families and general sensationalism by the media; the abandonment of the presumption of innocence; the potentially harmful impact on ongoing cases; privacy concerns; a dearth of honest reporting; and its contribution to societal desensitization. 

True crime shows and other contents tend to scrutinize and overanalyze real-life events and crimes, which can be incredibly distressing and traumatic for the victims’ families, especially when these shows and other sources are broadcast and/or printed repeatedly for the purpose of entertainment. This practice can oftentimes be seen as exploitative, which is hard to disagree with. Respecting the privacy as well as the consent of the individuals involved (such as the victims and their families) is essential. When portraying real-life events or people who are still alive, creators should consider the potential impact on their lives, reputation, and well-being. Caution should be exercised to avoid harm or unnecessary intrusion. Obtaining informed consent from people who are being depicted or referenced is important, especially when their personal lives or sensitive information are being portrayed. This, however, tends to happen a lot less than it should, and it displays how unethical true crime shows tend to be. 

Some true crime shows and other sources tend to prioritize sensation and graphic content to over-exaggerate and dramatize events to boost viewership, which can oftentimes lead to a voyeuristic and insensitive approach to serious and sensitive matters. Oftentimes, the stories that are published use exciting language and shocking details at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke more public interest or excitement. This is due to the fact that the truth isn’t always as exciting as a dramatic narrative, and the media is more than aware of this fact and often uses it for detrimental reasons. Media creators should attempt to approach real-life events and people with sensitivity and empathy. Consideration regarding the potential impact their portrayals may have on individuals, communities or cultures should definitely be taken into account. Additionally, avoiding stereotypes, biases and sensationalism is of the utmost importance. 

Sometimes, the presumption of innocence is too prevalent in true crime shows. They can oftentimes focus too heavily on a particular suspect, both potentially leading to a presumption of guilt in the publics’ eyes before a trial even occurs, while simultaneously allowing the true offender to remain unnoticed. This behavior typically ignores the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which proclaims “innocence until proven guilty.”

Another ethical issue with true crime shows is the impact that their airing has on ongoing cases. Revealing details of unresolved criminal investigations can lead to absolutely no good. It has the potential to jeopardize the investigation via witness contamination or revealing sensitive information. This ethical concern ties into the general lack of privacy by these true crime programs. True crime shows often utilize real names, photographs and locations, potentially infringing on the privacy of individuals who were not directly involved in the crime and possibly putting them at risk. 

Ethical reporting is oftentimes not made a priority. Usually, it is far more important or prioritized to be entertaining than to maintain journalistic integrity. The accuracy and fairness are oftentimes questionable due to this. Most of the time, it’s a mad dash to deliver the news first; whichever channel can broadcast the fastest wins the race and delivers news to most of the population. It’s important that misrepresentation or distortion of facts doesn’t occur when delivering news. If any creative license or dramatization is taken in the depiction of real-life events or people, it is important that the media creators are transparent and disclose such modifications. Clearly differentiating between facts and fictional elements can help maintain integrity and avoid misleading the audience.

Another issue with the consumption (and often overconsumption) of true crime content is the general desensitization that occurs. Constant exposure to violence and the overall distressing material in true crime shows may cause viewers to become anesthetized to the tragedies that occur in life. While true crime shows are entertaining pieces of media, their producers should ensure that they can be aired without bringing about substantial ethical or privacy concerns.

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