Law, Justice and Journalism

‘This is not Justice’: Ian Tomlinson, Institutional Failure and the Press Politics of Outrage

In Justice, Social sciences on January 23, 2012 at 11:01 am

A recent paper by Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin, from the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, in the British Journal of Criminology contributes to research on the sociology of scandal and the role of national newspapers and, more particularly, newspaper editorials in setting the agenda for public debate around police accountability and miscarriages of justice.

In previous work, we analysed how citizen journalism framed news coverage of the policing of the G20 Summit, London 2009, and the death of Ian Tomlinson (Greer and McLaughlin 2010). In this article, we consider the next stage of the Ian Tomlinson case. Our empirical focus is the controversy surrounding the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision not to prosecute the police officer filmed striking Tomlinson shortly before he collapsed and died. We illustrate how the press’s relentless agenda-setting around ‘institutional failure’, initially targeted at the Metropolitan Police Service, expanded to implicate a network of criminal justice institutions. The Tomlinson case offers insights into the shifting nature of contemporary relations between the British press and institutional power. It is a paradigmatic example of a politically ambitious form of ‘attack journalism’, the scope of which extends beyond the criminal justice system. In a volatile information-communications marketplace, journalistic distrust of institutional power is generating a ‘press politics of outrage’, characterized by ‘scandal amplification’.

The paper can be accessed via this link. [Br J Criminol (2011) doi: 10.1093/bjc/azr086, First published online: November 17, 2011].

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