The Social Construction of Wrongful Conviction in Canadian News Coverage

Bell, Lisa
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University of Guelph

Wrongful conviction in news media is understudied in the Canadian context. Accordingly, the current study explores the construction of wrongful conviction in three Canadian newspapers published between 2008 and 2013 through a quantitative content analysis and thematic analysis. A large sample of 280 articles is used to examine how wrongful conviction is defined, how the problem is typified, how wrongfully convicted individuals are constructed, and what solutions are offered or evaluated in media coverage. The results indicate that news media typically reports on sensational cases after the conviction has been overturned and situates the problem in the legal system. Although wrongfully convicted individuals are identified as the primary victim, news media largely ignores the role of systemic discrimination in convicting the innocent and portrays the criminal justice system as self-correcting. Policy implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Wrongful Conviction, Social Construction, Miscarriage of Justice, Canadian News Coverage, News Media, Constructionist Approach to Social Problems