Streamed Trials and Televised Confessions: A Linguistic Analysis of the Intersection of Law and Media in the People’s Republic of China
This study analyzes the intersection of media and the law in the People’s Republic of China from qualitative and quantitative empirical linguistics perspectives. Institutional interaction in court trials broadcast online, televised confessions that are directed, scripted, and broadcast on state television, and news and academic articles about these two phenomena are all systematically examined to determine how media becomes part of the law and law becomes part of media. Conversation analysis of a corpus of 20 criminal trials streamed on the China Court Trial Online website (CCTO) reveals that defendants construct resistance to ascriptions of guilt in exclusively covert ways, while judges respond to these efforts in turns that reassert guilt and seek explicit affiliation from defendants. Multimodal critical discourse analysis of three televised confession news segments shows the ways in which state ideology about nationality and the law is conveyed to mass media audiences through lexico-grammatical structure, gaze, and other semiotic resources. I also show, through corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis of four corpora in two different genres – two news corpora and two academic corpora including articles about trial streaming and televised confessions – that institutional and individual discourses surrounding these phenomena diverge sharply in terms of factual interpretation and normative evaluation. The consideration of these findings together reveals the way that the media is being mobilized as a part of the legal process, in order to further discipline the immediate participants and communicate the institutional stance toward law-breakers and the ideologically deviant to a mass media audience. This study also shows how corpus linguistics may be incorporated into qualitative research, e.g. conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis, to reveal subtle patterns, guide the refining of research questions, and enhance the systematic nature of the analytic approach.