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Coverage of murder cases and trials in the Flemish press



This paper focuses on the changes over time in court reporting on murder cases in a sample of Belgian newspapers (1919 up till now). Critics claim that court reporting is increasingly becoming more sensationalised and that the media’s attention for this topic is expanding. This leads to what they call “tabloid justice”: it appears that the press decides who is guilty and who is not. The shocking and appealing aspects of crimes are overexposed causing the entertainment function of the press to get the upper hand at the expense of its informative role.

Our analysis concentrates on the most serious crimes, those that are heard by the Belgian court of assizes. Most people have no personal experience with serious crimes nor judicial procedures. This makes people especially dependent for their information on the media’s portrayal. Our research examines whether there is a significant rise in the number of press articles covering murder trials and whether a change of reporting style can be seen over time. Next to a quantitative content analysis, the research consists of qualitative reading of the texts (use of metaphors, representation of the defendant in our society etc) and in-depth interviews with journalists specialised in court reporting.

Rozane De Cock (PhD Social Sciences 2007) is professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), a member of the Centre for Media Culture and Communication Technology (KULeuven) and a member of the Brussels Centre of Journalism Studies (HUB-Brussels). During the writing of her phd on court reporting of murder cases in Belgian newspapers, she became interested in the interdisciplinary field of journalism, justice and law. She teaches several courses (News Production and News Reception; Qualitative Methods of Communication Research; News Effects and An Introduction to Communication Sciences) at the KULeuven and the HUB. Besides this academic point of view, her former job as an editor at the largest Belgian newspaper offers her background information of the profession “from within”. Among other presentations this year, she contributed at the ‘Justice, Media and Public: Changing Public Perceptions in the New Media Landscape’ conference, in Keele (UK) last March. This presentation was entitled “Nothing but Tabloid Justice and Distorted Court Reporting? The Opinion of Lawyers on the Credibility of Justice News”.

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When & where

4.00pm - 6.00pmWednesday 6th October 2010