Accidents, Scandals, Disasters: The Media Framing of Corporate Crime

Published: 3 January 2023| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/bgb2dzm74t.1
Jana Macfarlane Horn


Many studies have previously examined the issue of corporate crime media narratives across all media sources (Wright et al., 1995), tabloids only (Machin & Mayr, 2012), or a comparison between portrayals in local and national papers (McMullan, 2006). Hupp Williamson (2018) recommends analyzing differences across cases and media outlets and Machin and Mayr (2012) highlight the short supply of research assessing the extent to which corporate crimes (as opposed to scandals) are being conceptualized by the media. To date, there were no studies examining corporate crimes in quality press, presenting a unique opportunity for this research to explore the state of corporate crime in quality press outlets. I intend to do this by conducting an exploratory study of three instances of corporate offending and their representation in three different UK-based online quality press sources. Doing so will provide an opportunity to explore how online quality press presents these issues and whether there are any differences between their critical engagement with the events. Focusing on cases that are unquestionably criminal – a case of manslaughter, financial fraud and a breaking of environmental law – will offer an introductory insight into whether cases that are clearly criminal (let alone those that are more ambiguous) get framed as lacking in seriousness. My research design will also allow for a small comparison between how even one type of outlets may vary in their framing of corporate crime. As such, this paper fills a gap in current literature as it develops on the recommendations of several scholars, by providing a valuable contribution at the intersection of corporate crime and mass media studies that employs media theories within criminology. Simply, this paper builds on existing research in three ways: it presents methodology previously overlooked within criminology, it explores sources not often employed in corporate crime media studies, and it examines whether there are any differences across multiple quality news sources. I do this by asking the following research questions: What frames are given most salience during the first week of coverage in online quality press articles that discuss the LIBOR case, the Volkswagen case, and the Grenfell case? How do these frames differ in each outlet based on their framing of the perpetrator, cause of crime, extent of victimization, and proposed punishment? It is found that quality press can be critical of corporate wrongdoing and portray it in a wider context of harmful corporate activities, especially if their political orientation allows them to do so. However, by and large, quality press narratives were found to be hegemonic by being oversimplified, and lacking frames synonymous with crime.


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The data was gathered from UK-based online quality press sources (namely, The Guardian, The Independent, and The Telegraph) that are publically available to access at any time by the general population. The articles used as data in this project included a small sample of articles on three corporate crime cases published in the first week after the exposureof the crime.


The Open University


Criminology, Corporate Crime, Digital Media, Mass Media