Communicating judicial decisions : court press releases and their effect on the news media

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Meyer, Philipp: Communicating judicial decisions : court press releases and their effect on the news media. Hannover : Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität, Diss., 2021, xiv, 160 S. DOI:

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Sum total of downloads: 555

Constitutional review courts construe constitutions in the light of legal, social, and political disputes. As such, constitutional review has become a key feature of modern-day democracies. However, the court’s authority depends on their reputation and support within the public, as they are unable to enforce their decisions and sanction noncompliance. Only if the public is aware of the courts and their actions and lends them their support, elected politicians will more likely comply with court decisions. To create awareness and to enable public scrutiny, courts have several tools. Among others, a proactive strategy to communicate and transmit information on court decisions and, thus, to increase transparency and openness is perceived to be an essential tool that courts have at their disposal. Through communication, court decisions become more accessible, potentially better understood, and the courts and their judges are held accountable to the public. In this dissertation, I study press releases by constitutional courts. Since the news media is the gatekeeper between the government and the public, I also assess how court communication shapes news media coverage of court decisions. I draw on the comparative judicial politics literature, the literature on policy agendas, and communication and journalism studies on the concepts of court reporting and news values. Throughout four empirical chapters, I ask which institutional structures influence the publication of court press releases, when and what kind of information courts communicate, and how these communication efforts shape the news media. I extend the existing literature in two regards. First, I argue that press releases are of central importance for a court’s agenda-setting power. Second, I argue that courts actively use the institutional tools at their disposal to create publicity and increase the chances of being reported on in the news. One such instrument is the publication of press releases, and this dissertation found that the strategic use of press releases enables courts to increase media coverage and, therefore, facilitate public scrutiny. I test these arguments empirically by combining inference methods such as logistic regressions with methods from the fields of machine learning and computational text analysis. Throughout all chapters, I test my arguments using data on court decisions and press releases of the German Federal Constitutional Court. The German court is a suitable case as it enjoys a sturdy and robust public support and has a comparatively long history of public relations and issuing press releases. The findings presented in the four chapters present a wide range of empirical evidence. In particular, I show that court decisions shape the policy issued discussed in the press releases through first-level agenda-setting dynamics. Additionally, I find evidence that press releases are published selectively and are more likely to occur when a decision declares a law unconstitutional. Concerning the news media, the results suggest that journalists rarely use court press releases when reporting on court decisions. However, if they use press releases for their reporting, they are more likely to use those that promote decisions that the public is already aware of. Finally, the likelihood of media coverage of FCC decisions is higher for those that were promoted with a press release and had high news value. The findings of my dissertation confirm that press releases help a court to communicate its policy agenda to the public. Moreover, my results suggest that court communication efforts partially serve the media logic, as I found first, that court decisions are more likely promoted with a press release if they entail newsworthy characteristics like conflict, relevance, and familiarity and second, that media coverage is more likely for decisions that entail these particular characteristics. Finally, since the likelihood of media coverage of court decisions is found to be higher when promoted with a press release, courts have considerable leverage to shape public opinion. Therefore, my results have implications for the research on strategic court behavior, court communication, and court reporting. Overall, since this dissertation offers novel perspectives on how courts communicate and how these efforts shape the media, it contributes to the growing discussion on open justice and the accountability of courts in times where judiciaries are under populist pressure. Hence, this dissertation has important implications for the sustainability of liberal democracy and the legitimacy of constitutional review in constitutional states.
License of this version: Es gilt deutsches Urheberrecht. Das Dokument darf zum eigenen Gebrauch kostenfrei genutzt, aber nicht im Internet bereitgestellt oder an Außenstehende weitergegeben werden.
Document Type: doctoralThesis
Publishing status: publishedVersion
Issue Date: 2021
Appears in Collections:Philosophische Fakultät

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pos. country downloads
total perc.
1 image of flag of Germany Germany 241 43.42%
2 image of flag of United States United States 68 12.25%
3 image of flag of China China 48 8.65%
4 image of flag of Czech Republic Czech Republic 26 4.68%
5 image of flag of Russian Federation Russian Federation 25 4.50%
6 image of flag of No geo information available No geo information available 12 2.16%
7 image of flag of Switzerland Switzerland 11 1.98%
8 image of flag of Ukraine Ukraine 10 1.80%
9 image of flag of India India 9 1.62%
10 image of flag of United Kingdom United Kingdom 9 1.62%
    other countries 96 17.30%

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