Media coverage of missing persons: Help or hindrance?

RA Lincoln, Paul Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


An Australian Institute of Criminology study showed that more than
18,000 people go missing annually in Australia. In addition, more than
6,000 escape from prisons, hospitals and other institutions (Bulletin, 10
November 1987; Swanton et al. 1988). Missing persons is a problem of
great significance and yet one which we know little about. There are many
reasons for our lack of knowledge, including:
• The missing persons population is a diverse group-by age,
by socioeconomic status, by reason for being absent, and so on.
• Social and policy changes, like divorce rates and
deinstitutionalising of mental hospitals, have led to greater
numbers of people whose whereabouts are unknown.
• There is an inherent reluctance by relatives to notify the police
or other agencies about missing persons.
• The academic or scientific literature on the topic is lacking,
except for the area of runaways where descriptive studies
• Media organisations tend to focus, almost exclusively, on the
sensational cases to the exclusion of others, which results in a
distorted picture of the missing persons population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-115
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian Journalism Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1994


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