|dc.description||This Bachelor’s thesis “The Construction of Crime and Punishment in Estonian
Television News Broadcasts” analyzes the news broadcasts of the three Estonian
television channels, in order to clarify how crime and punishment is constructed in the
news broadcasts. Three periods were analyzed: 20-26 August 2001, 29 October - 4
November 2001, and 21-27 January 2002. During the researched period the news
programs of the three channels broadcasted a total of 521 news items prepared by the
editors (not including foreign and sports news), to which five longer topic treatment in
the second half of the Päevapeegel (Mirror of the Day) program on Kanal 2 are
Using the critical discourse analysis method, a total of 57 TV news items (including
news on criminal cases and those with a criminal context) are analyzed in the course
of this paper.
The “News on Criminal Cases” category consists of news items, which were related
to specific criminal cases (proceedings)—alluded to by an event, the news item text or
photo. The “News with a Criminal Context” includes the following types of news
items: (1) the news item is not directly related to a criminal case, although the
journalistic discourse gives the news item a criminal connotation (text, including word
usage); (2) a sequel to a specific criminal case (an expansion of the topic); (3) the text
of the news item refers to a possible crime, although the news item does not treat it;
(4) crime and punishment themed stories, that is the news item is not directly
connected to the event, but reports on the processes and trends in the field of activity.
During the periods under observation, there were 31 news items related to criminal
cases on the air, in which 20 different criminal cases were reported. There were a total
of 7 court news items (on 5 different court proceedings). There were 26 news items
with a crime context.
A comparison of the analyzed weeks shows that TV news places a greater value on
crime news than court news. Namely, the TV channels did not broadcast a single court report during the first analyzed week, and only two during the second week. In
order to for the news sample to contain the necessary number of court stories, the
analysis period had to be increased to three weeks. This range expresses the subject
preferences and values of the events by TV channels.
Having analyzed the TV news for three weeks, two basic approaches can be
- News focused on events: related mostly to the events in the beginning phases
of a criminal proceedings;
- News focused on individuals: news reporting on pre-trial proceedings (except
for the start) and news reporting on court proceedings.
Reporting of criminal events
In the beginning phase of criminal proceedings (19 news items) TV news was
focused on what happened. In legal discourse, we are dealing with a phase in which
everything is still open or the investigation has not yet clarified what exactly
happened and who the participants were.
TV news provides an overview of what happened, describing this and showing the
consequences. The news used information received from investigative institutions,
alluding to it and/or quoting from it. In this phase, the most interviews were used. In
addition to investigative institutions, witnesses were also heard from. In this phase,
the existence of photos was of significant importance, of the event or its
The occurrence was constructed in the news items on the principle: the event creates
the news. Mostly, what happened was shown and a description of what happened was
given (for instance, setting fires, explosions, accidents). These news items do not
present strict legal discourses, but rather a story is told. Based on this, the majority of
the news items failed to mention that a criminal proceeding had been started. Only
once did the start of the criminal proceedings form the focus of the story.
In the news items regarding the start of criminal proceedings, the press usually
constructs what has happened as an accident, without providing it with a legal evaluation. This, however, means that news about accidents is already pre-valued by
the TV channel, that is, they are reported irregardless of the legal context. This,
however, clouds the concept and limits of a criminal act. I believe that none of the
viewers doubt that the killing of another person is a criminal act, but do the viewers
know that causing the death of a person in, for instance, a traffic accident is also
accompanied by criminal liability? This is not explained by TV news.
If, in the start of criminal proceedings phase, TV news refers to the suspect, then
analysis shows that in the first mention this was definitely done with an accusatory
undertone (naming the person as the one responsible for the event in a very definite
tone of voice), and in the next mention the person is called the suspect. When
referring to the suspect, no more than the first name and age is mentioned.
Already naming the individual as definitely guilty in the suspect phase, or in one news
item, naming the person first as a suspect and then as the one responsible for the act or
the culprit, cannot be considered to be proper. In legal discourse, we are dealing with
different states of the process: the suspect need not become the accused, and the
accused need not become the guilty party. These are terms which should be used
more exactly in the press.
In one news item, the full name and age of the victim was mentioned, this cannot
considered to be proper, since the victim was not a public figure.
During the pre-trial investigation, the criminal case can be lengthened, ended, bail
determined, etc.—this can be considered to be the pre-trial investigative phase.
Reporting on these phases, the TV news became focused on individuals. This also
In these news items, the individuals connected to criminal cases are more important
than the acts. From the analysis we can see that news items were often shortened to
the point that the legal discourse in the news text became inaccurate, and for instance,
from some of the news items it was not clear which specific individual was under
suspicion and which specific act was being investigated. The information was
provided from investigative institutions (usually the specific source was alluded to), which was usually the only source of information used. Of the analyzed news items,
in only one case was the representative of the accused given the opportunity to speak.
These news items were lacking substance regarding the status of the individual in the
criminal proceeding process. The news items usually limited themselves to
information that we are dealing with a criminal proceeding started against individual
X. Whether the individual is recognized as a suspect or whether charges have been
filed against him/her was not included in the news discourse.
This however violates the presumption of innocence, because a person is labeled
within a criminal context before the investigation is completed and a court resolution
arrived at. Such news puts the person under so-called public pressure and connects
them to a negative background.
Such news is also characterized by the fact that archival material was used in the
broadcasts to illustrate the text. This, however, emphasizes an individual-based
approach even more.
Reporting on court proceedings
Court news was reported in only seven of 31 criminal news items, and of the seven,
four reported on verdicts. During the analysis period, Kanal 2 did not report on a
single criminal case or verdict.
News items reporting on court discourse were also centered on individuals and were
influential or persuasive regarding verdicts and/or public opinion. The news reporting
on court verdicts focused on punishment. It should be added that only guilty verdicts
were reported on.
The news focused on the description of the crime and on what the investigative
institutions had ascertained during the preliminary investigation. The extent of the
punishment was also predicted in the news. Thereby, the news discourse places the
accused into the role of a guilty party, which cannot be considered to be proper and
In these news items, the TV news show the accused (mostly in a wide shot).
From the analysis, it became clear that TV3 constructs cases with verdicts with the
emphasis on the decision, but the person of the accused is brought into focus. TV3
news highlighted whether a person admitted his/her guilt or not, whether he/she
regretted his/her act or not. In these stories, the position of the guilty party is
described in such a way that one can get the impression that the criminal is not a
criminal but “an unfortunate victim of fate.”
When reporting on court themes, ETV centered on investigative institutions, or
bringing out the connection between the investigations’ results and verdicts was
The news format for criminal cases
The start of criminal proceedings phase is characterized by the fact that they are
usually prepared by an editor (reporter) and interviews are used. In these news items,
pictures of what has happened (the consequences) are important.
In the phases following the start of criminal proceedings, TV news uses a short news
format. This means that the news is read by the anchor, no interviews are used, and
pictorially, archival materials are used.
Short news items are also characterized by the fact that they are centered on
individuals and often shorten legal discourse to the point, that what the specific person
is suspected of, or what specific act is being investigated is lost. Thereby the
individual is emphasized and a negative context is created from his/her actions.
Information sources for the news. From an analysis of the sources, it becomes clear
that the news use information from the investigative institutions in all phases of the
crime and administration of justice: providing an overview of what has happened and
reflecting the results of the preliminary investigation. This is expressed in both the
number of speaking participants and how much they are quoted. In the start of the
criminal proceedings phase, the news also includes commentaries from witnesses.
At the same time, from an analysis of the text, it becomes clear that quite often news
without a direct source reference is presented. In these news items, an overview of
what has happened, or the result of a preliminary investigation, is also presented. This
raises the question, why is a specific source not quoted? Is this the result of
shortening the news item or does one not wish to identify the information source.
However, the volume of information from investigative institutions in TV news
expresses the actual bent of the news content. TV news prefers to give the floor to
investigative institutions that are in positions of power in a criminal proceeding rather
than to the suspects, which creates a situation in which information supports the
accusations and positions of investigative bodies and thereby sets the other party in an
News with a criminal context was analyzed separately in the paper.
The analysis brought out stories in which a criminal context is created for a news
item, or the journalistic discourse presents what has happened as a criminal news
item. This is, in practice, accompanied by the accusation of a person in an action
(calling it a crime) which in actuality is lacking a connection with a discourse of
An example is the news of the financing of the Tallinn Integration Project. In the
news, the media started to search for corruption (by analyzing monetary allocations),
since the chairman of the Tallinn City Council audit commission had alluded to this.
In the news, the incident was called a “corruption scandal.” However, by reporting on
this news, the press became a political “plaything.”
Although the news was just reporting on the phase when the city was conducting an
internal audit, the TV news primarily amplified the opinion of the audit commission.
This shows the influence of the first source of information on the development of the
In the analyzed period, the visit of Elfraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, to Estonia was reported and its relationship with the possible connection of
overseas Estonian Harry Männil to Nazi crimes. The topic was characterized as a type
of crime and also by the fact that Zuroff accused an (overseas) Estonian.
From the analysis it becomes clear, the TV news started to produce news based on
Zuroff’s words, “I have new evidence regarding Männil’s guilt.” It is important to
emphasize that the press did not see the evidence, but the news started to evaluate its
competency and trustworthiness. The press did not wait for the evaluation of the
security police regarding the documents, but decided that “they contained nothing
new” even before an official position was presented.
This expresses one of the trends in media: news is produced even when there are no
concrete facts beyond someone’s opinion.
From an analysis of news with a criminal context, another trend in TV news becomes
clear: the press does not connect events with specific criminal cases, that is, these are
not placed in a legal context. Actually, the press does not pose the question: what is
the present event connected to? This is expressed, for instance, in the news reporting
on the Lada Petko case or the Hiiumaa air crash.
Therefore, one of the primary problems in the discourse of TV news is an unduly
individual-centered approach to the criminal process, in which the presumption of
innocence is violated. A second problem that can be highlighted is that the attention
of TV news is proportionally greater on the crime discourse than on recording the
administration of justice. Thereby, TV news neglects one of its assignments, to offer
the public a balanced and object treatment of what is happening in society. In the
reporting of criminal proceedings, the main emphasis should be focused on the court
proceeding phase, so that both the accused and the accuser can explain and defend
their positions. Thereby individuals would not groundlessly attract the negative
attention of the media in the suspect phase.
During the analysis period, a Code of Criminal Procedure was in force which allowed for investigative results to be revealed only with the permission of the investigator and to the extent allowed by him/her. In the current Code of Criminal Procedure, only
the prosecutor has the right to reveal investigative results. In order to evaluate whether
the given change in legislation has been accompanied by an actual change in the news
discourse, the analysis would have to be repeated. This analysis can provide the point
of departure and comparison material for this.||