American Judges Association
On Courts and Communication Strategies: Book Review of Pamela D. Schulz, Courts and Judges on Trial: Analysing and Managing the Discourses of Disapproval
Date of this Version
Court Review, Volume 47, Issue 1-2, 42-44
This book is a broad-ranging and detailed discussion of the sometimes fraught relationships between courts, politicians, and the media. The author combines her practical experience as the first public relations and information officer with the Courts Administration Authority in South Australia with in-depth research as a communications analyst. She has analyzed media and their practices both in Australia and worldwide. This has revealed much of interest about the motivations and methods of journalists, politicians, and judges, as well as implications for community confidence in the court system and the rule of law in modern democracies. Schulz concludes by offering some practical solutions to the problems she has identified.
Courts have no direct power over citizens and merely mediate executive power by validating arrest on charges, authorizing the exercise of the power of fining or imprisonment, and quantifying and collecting judgment debts. To effectively perform their work, courts depend upon the confidence of the public in the judicial process. There are very few judges, and relatively few cases, especially in the common-law system, so the overwhelming source of information for the general public about courts is the media. Yet the media selects the bizarre and sensational rather than the serious. As Schulz says, “[i]f it bleeds, it leads,” and content is selected on the basis of the “four C” principle: courts, cops, crime and conflict.1 Schulz contends that in a western world of relative safety, the media and politicians have created a climate of fear of violent crime to prop up their own relevance. Crime is depicted as a major problem, and getting “tough on crime” is the simplistic solution. Part of this process is to make stories newsworthy by finding cases where there is discontent about the result, which is then beaten up as part of a discourse of disrespect against the judicial process as a whole. Straight reporting is demoted in importance in preference for conflict, problems, and denouement.
Copyright © 2011 American Judges Association. Used by permission.