True Crime Entertainment: Navigating Ethical Dilemmas, Societal Impact, and Safeguards in Storytelling


The BBC’s recent dramatisation of Jimmy Savile’s crimes in The Reckoning, featuring Steve Coogan in the unsettling role, brings into sharp relief the weighty ethical responsibilities of storytelling within the true crime genre. Amidst both critical acclaim and fervent debate, the series reignites essential questions: what are the ethical dimensions, merits, and obligations entailed when exploring such disturbing real-life narratives through popular media?

Here at The Broken Spine, we ardently champion the necessity of telling these stories, particularly when they are centred around the voices of victims and their families. With an unyielding commitment to quality, ethical integrity, and inclusivity, we view this as an opportunity to engage in insightful dialogue. This article endeavours to traverse the nuanced landscape of true crime entertainment, addressing its societal benefits, ethical challenges, and safeguards for ensuring an informed and respectful audience experience.

This subject merits cautious and deliberate treatment, demanding our steadfast dedication to truth, justice, and the dignity of those involved. Moreover, it underscores the need for rigorous attention to detail in the art of storytelling—a commitment we never take lightly.

Exploring the Nuanced Landscape of True Crime Entertainment: Advantages, Ethical Considerations, and Safeguards

The escalating allure of true crime, extending from murder mysteries to psychological thrillers, compels a judicious examination of its effects on society, its moral complexities, and the guardrails that must be erected.

The Two-Faced Nature of True Crime Entertainment

The Advantages:

True crime provides not only compelling narratives but also valuable educational insights. Programmes like Netflix’s Making a Murderer offer captivating dissections of judicial systems, prompting urgent and necessary conversations. Furthermore, true crime occasionally serves as a societal warning bell, highlighting the severe consequences of online anonymity, as exhibited by Don’t F**k with Cats.

Beyond that, engaging with these stories offers a form of catharsis. Canonical works, such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, transcend mere recounting of events, inviting us to grapple with complex human psychologies and moral dilemmas, thus catalysing meaningful discussions.

The Disadvantages:

Equally, it’s vital to interrogate the genre’s shortcomings. The pitfalls encompass sensationalism, particularly in works that unduly glamorise criminal actions, as well as insensitivity towards victims, often relegating their suffering to the narrative’s margins. The habitual consumption of such content risks societal desensitisation to violence and criminality.

Ethical Signposts in the True Crime Landscape

Navigating the ethical intricacies of true crime necessitates a balanced approach. Storytellers must walk the line between offering a humane perspective on perpetrators and lionising their deeds. Equally crucial is respecting the dignity of victims and their families. The imperative for factual accuracy is heightened, given that inaccuracies can exacerbate harm when the narratives concern real people and events.

Implementing Safeguards for True Crime Content

The incorporation of protective measures can transform the genre from mere sensationalism to an educative and enlightening art form. An advisory board of diverse experts could serve as an ethical guide during the content creation phase. Additionally, trigger warnings offer audiences prior notice of sensitive material, empowering them to make informed choices.


True crime represents a complex interplay between intellectual enrichment and ethical challenges. For those of us committed to publishing and artistic ventures, the onus is on acting conscientiously, keenly aware of the broader implications. Through stringent adherence to quality, ethical prudence, and an inclusive approach, we can cultivate a space where challenging but respectful conversations can flourish, inviting all who are interested in confronting society’s most unsettling issues.

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