The "uneasy" relationship between media and justice: towards a theoretical explanation
published: Jan. 22, 2008, recorded: December 2007, views: 3978
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In this paper, I examine how political and social theory could be used to make sense of the uneasy relationship between media, news media in particular, and the justice system. To speak of an ‘uneasy’ relationship in this context raises two fundamental questions, namely whether this relationship is always and inevitably going to be difficult, and what kind of harm may ultimately result from persistently distorted and/or negative media portrayals of justice. Liberal theory sees the media as a watchdog or ‘Fourth Estate’ in democracy which aims for the truth in order to expose malpractice or abuse of power.
However, the liberal narrative also allows for the fact that this ideal is seldom attained, often because news media are thrown off course by commercial imperatives which result in sensationalist, superficial and distorted reporting. At its worst, this is seen as something which could lead to a serious erosion of the rule of law. However, contrasting the liberal ideal and its discontents with Niklas Luhmann’s theory of autopoiesis, I also examine a different argument, namely that as law and the media are closed and self-referential systems, they both produce accounts of the social which are inevitably distorted.
Furthermore, precisely because law is a closed and autonomously working system, autopoietic theory allows us to reach the conclusion that law is exceptionally well equipped to deal with extraneous pressures such as those generated by a very inquisitive or sensation-driven press.
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