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Even judges are only human:
The influence of media on judges and prosecutors

About the Study

Together with the University of Mainz, we have investigated how the media influences criminal proceedings. A total of 580 judges and prosecutors were questioned. Eleven German states participated in the survey: Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia. Among other things, the use of media reports on own procedures, the perceived mistakes in reporting and the emotional reactions to media criticism were determined.

The study was led by Prof. Dr. Mathias Kepplinger (Professor of Empirical Communication Research) and CONSILIUM Managing Director Martin Wohlrabe.

Prof. Kepplinger
Prof. Kepplinger
Martin Wohlrabe
Martin Wohlrabe

I. Large influence of the media on judges and prosecutors

Many judges and prosecutors pay close attention to the reporting of their trials. One in two judges (53 percent) and prosecutors (62 percent) state that they thought of the public perception during their questioning and even during their plea in trial on which the media reported intensively.

Attention to reports on own trials

II. Motives for the use of media articles and online comments

55 percent of those questioned use contributions or comments be­cause they want to "form an impression of public opinion", "assess the influence on those involved in the process" (29 percent) or want to know" how widespread extreme opinions are" (25 percent). The reaction to media criticism is often emotional: to the question of how they reacted spontaneously, most said they had "been annoyed" (judges 50 percent, public prosecutors 65 percent) and had the feeling that they "could not defend themselves properly" (judges 45 percent, public prosecutors 46 percent).

Assessment of criticism of judges and prosecutors

III. Perceived reasons for intensive media coverage

In each case, 60 percent of prosecutors believe that the media report intensively on proceedings when "the victim/defendant is a migrant/migrant" or even when "the expected level of punishment is particularly high”. According to 97 percent of all respondents, the media reports intensively on criminal proceedings "in which the victim/defendant is prominent".

IV. The influence on the course of the trial and those involved in the trial

Both judges (10 percent) and prosecutors (16 percent) perceive an influence on "the course of the entire trial". Furthermore, 30 percent of judges and 42 percent of prosecutors declare that media reports have an impact on "the atmosphere in the courtroom.”

The vast majority of respondents consider the influence of online commentaries or media reports on lay people such as victims (63 percent), the public (87 percent) or defendants (48 percent) is "strong" or even "very strong".

And one in five public prosecutors (20 percent) perceives an influence of the media on the concrete testimony behavior of witnesses in court.

Furthermore, the respondents stated that "witnesses were intimidated by media reports." (27 percent of judges, 41 percent of prosecutors) and that "the media had an influence on the verdict because they changed the behavior of victims, defendant or witnesses". (22 percent judges, 36 percent prosecutors).

It is therefore important to keep these points in mind.

V. Media affinity and professionalism in communication

The influence of media reports is making those involved increasingly act: Every fourth judge and almost every second prosecutor asks the press offices for an active information policy or even to start counter-strategies to defenders' campaigns. More and more judges (24 percent) are establishing information relationships with journalists and even one in three public prosecutors (33 percent) hold regular press talks.

As a result, it can be said that the influence of the media on the course of the law suit and many participants can be clearly felt.

Communication strategy and information strategy of judges and prosecutors

VI. The question of guilt remains a matter for the judge

Another exciting figure: only 2 percent of the questioned judges and prosecutors see a direct influence on the question of guilt in our study. And this despite the fact that 33 percent of judges and even 48 percent of prosecutors believe that "journalists wanted to influence the verdict".

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