Kohtu legitimatsioon Eesti pressis (Tallinna Linnakohtu näitel)



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This thesis titled ‘Legitimation of the Court in Estonian Press (The Case of Tallinn City Court)’ studies the legitimation of the work of the court by the press as exemplified by the Tallinn City Court. The texts published in Estonian newspapers in 1993, 1998 and 2003 about the work of the criminal court and the general work of the Tallinn City Court were analysed. The study was based on trust in the court and its relation to legitimacy. In 2004, 56% of the Estonian population had trust in the court according to the Saar Poll survey ‘State and Nation’ (http://www.saarpoll.ee/riik_ja_rahvas/kevad2004graafik2.gif. May, 2005). The main theoretical bases for the study were the trust theory by van Dijk and Piotr Sztompka (1999) and the practice theory by Pierre Bourdieu (1999). Any domination and authority, including the court, requires legitimacy. Van Dijk (1998) associates ideology with legitimation; both require norms and values. Van Dijk defines legitimation as a social activity related to speech and text, which can be defined via discourse. The legitimation discourse is often related to an institutional context. In such case, legitimation is a discourse justifying an official activity that is politically, socially or legally related to a role or position. According to van Dijk, both legitimation and illegitimation strategies are usually discursive. Sztompka’s trust theory identifies the types of trust and clarifies the link between trust and legitimacy. According to the trust theory, the most abstract type of trust is trust in a system or regime, which is closely associated with the concept of legitimacy. Based on Sztompka, the court has at least two reasons why it could be highly trustworthy: trust in the judge as a social role, and organisational and institutional trust. Sztompka believes that of all types of trust, axiological trust (trust based on moral qualities) could be most appropriate for courts, presuming that the court is honest and fair. Bourdieu’s practice theory enabled the author to study how the fields of press and law compete with each other and how the symbolic capital divided in these fields affects the court’s legitimation. Bourdieu defines social space as a field divided into smaller fields competing with each other, in which the social agents try extend their competence on account of the neighbours and to swallow the competence of the other fields. A field of power tries to coordinate all the fields. Economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital is divided in the fields. Relevant to the present study is the overlapping of the relatively autonomic field of law with the field of the press, which questions the autonomy and legitimacy of the court field by expressing its values or acting as a shaper of public opinion. Following from the theoretical bases and the relatively low trust in Estonian courts, it is described in the thesis who create the court’s reputation and on what grounds; it is discussed how the court is interpreted; it is viewed whether the media and the court work ‘hand in hand’ and it is attempted to find out how the court should structure its communication system. To solve these tasks, it was studied what information was published in the media about the court’s work and what the scope of such information was; what the prevalent tonality of the texts about the courts was; which topics of the court’s work were reflected in all three years of publications; whether the media’s choice of topics was justified or biased; who, how and on what grounds interpret the court in the media and what the role of a sense of justice was in shaping trust/distrust in the courts. The hypotheses through which the studied material was approached were as follows: in the competition between the fields of the press and law, the press reduces the symbolic capital of the court, effectively decreasing the legitimacy of the court; the court’s representation in the press reflects society’s general low level of trust in government institutions and officials; competition for symbolic capital in the field of law contributes to the illegitimation of the court. As the questions raised in this study were combined for studying both the surface and content of the media texts, both quantitative (content analysis) and qualitative (critical discourse analysis) methods were used in a combination. Quantitative analysis was used to set frames to the study: to identify the volume of texts needed, define the different time periods, and make a more specific selection of the texts which were then analysed using the qualitative method. The quantitative analysis was based on McQuail’s study technique which was used to select the texts, compile a system of categories, select the analysis units from the content and count the frequency of occurrence of the categories in the set of analysis units; the results were presented in a table. The analysis unit was one text and the categories chiefly helped to answer quantity related questions. The texts necessary for critical discourse analysis were found among the content analysis results. According to the ‘tonality’ category provided in the coding instructions of the content analysis, the attitude to the court was divided into supporting, accusing and neutral. The ‘general tonality of the text’ category allowed for distinguishing the illegitimising texts. Based on the trust theory by Sztompka, these texts are most pronounced in expressing trust or distrust in the court. Illegitimising texts were analysed at first, and the selection of neutral and supporting texts took account of the macro positions that were repeated in the illegitimising texts. Then a text or set of texts was chosen on the basis of similar characteristics (genre, spokespersons, topics) and the text(s) being analysed were supported by examples from other texts (Wodak and Meyer (2001) claim that compiling the database to be analysed is not a specific phase that should end before the beginning of analysis). The same approach is supported by van Dijk (Wodak and Meyer (2001)), who advises to begin from macroanalysis, screen the topics repeated in the texts (macro positions), and continue the analysis on that basis. According to the trust theory by Sztompka (1999), the court discourse divided into trusting and distrusting discourses. The trusting discourse in turn divided into neutral and supporting attitudes, and the distrust discourse divided into procedural and personal distrust. In the critical discourse analysis, the text was first studied using Norman Fairclough’s method. The text analysis was connected with the social representations theory by van Dijk (1998) and the practice theory by Pierre Bourdieu (1999). In summary, it should be noted that during the observed period (1993, 1998, 2003), 449 texts were published in the newspapers regarding the work of the criminal court of the Tallinn City Court and the general work, i.e. organisational issues, which the author judges to be a sufficient amount. The prevalent tonality of describing the court’s activities is neutral (in 342 texts or 76.1% of all the texts). As to their overall tonality, 304 texts or 67.7% of the total are descriptive and their method of appeal is logical/rational (236 texts or 52.5%). Of text types, news is the most common (extended news, news with a photograph or caricature, 91.5% of all the texts). The most common topics are court hearings (43% of the texts) and court decisions (38% of the texts), i.e. the form of court chronicles prevails. The most common spokesperson as an external expert was a policeman (in 58 texts, including 6 illegitimising texts). There were only 44 illegitimising texts, i.e. 9.8% of the total, but their number increased over the years: two in 1993, twelve in 1998 and over thirty in 2003. The content analysis confirmed that court texts are mainly neutral news. Thus, the court is not a subject of general and everyday discussion. This is due to the relative autonomy and specific capital of the court field, which intruders from the other fields cannot occupy. The same results were obtained in the course of the critical discourse analysis: the court is generally interpreted as neutral and the media is not biased in this connection. The court is trusted when it is interpreted as being austere and fair, and vice versa: distrust in the court, through which illegitimation works, is revealed when the court is interpreted as being lenient and unfair. The press has a special relation to court decisions, whose publication can also relate to a media bias (in the case of texts the source of which is the police). As an external expert, police is the institution that manipulates with the court and press to criticise the court’s work, influence the court to take decisions favourable for the police, and shape a public opinion that favours the police. Media bias is revealed according to how a court decision is interpreted against the background of the events taking place in society. It is characteristic of court texts that the court decision is always only the local context for addressing social phenomena more broadly. As regards the sense of justice, the social context in which the court decisions are made plays a role. It is evident from the court texts studied that social injustice has gradually increased since 1993 and this has an impact on the sense of justice of the media and the public. The common sub- discourses in 1998 and 2003, both in the case of the trusting and distrusting relation, were the white-collar discourse associating with the generally favourable treatment of white-collar workers (or officials in general), and the ‘we vs. you’ discourse (the ‘two Estonias’ discourse) with its different forms of manifestation. Sztompka (1999) notes that trust is spread from upper to lower levels and distrust spreads from down upward. When trust in the court is relatively low, it leads to the assumption that trust in the state and government is also not high. This is indeed so, according to the latest survey by Saar Poll: trust in the Estonian government is even lower than trust in the courts –– 51%. (http://www.saarpoll.ee/paasteteenitus2004.gif. June, 2005). If we add the relative closure and the procedural rules of the court, the thin culture of trust, weak trusting impulse and the spread of this kind of social mood via the press, this all may constitute the cause for the relatively low level of trust. Inga Lill in her 2005 Bachelor’s thesis ‘Construction of Crime and Punishment on the Estonian TV Channels News’ finds that news focus more on the pre-trial phase and less on the administration of justice itself, and believes that news coverage of criminal proceedings should mainly focus on the phase of judicial proceedings. This paper supports this idea, since the closure of the courts is only seeming. A court decision has a long history running through all the hearings, and it is public. All the nuances cannot be stated in the decision, but these often show why a trial can end in a conviction less severe than the media was hoping for, or even in acquittal. Prosecutors and judges could have more regard to public interest and avoid declaring sittings closed too easily.


H Social Sciences (General), magistritööd