The Israeli Supreme Court's Mythical Image – A Death of a Thousand Sound Bites
67 Pages Posted: 22 May 2014 Last revised: 21 Dec 2014
Date Written: May 20, 2014
One of the perplexing phenomena in the rise of judicial power in democracies worldwide is the high level of public support given in many countries to these essentially contermajoritarian institutions. Israel has served for many years as “Exhibit A” in accounts of the rise of judicial power. Yet, following decades of strong public support for the Israeli Supreme Court, there has been a sharp decline since the beginning of this century. Based on an empirical study of television coverage of the Israeli Supreme Court on Channel One evening news broadcasts between 1993 and 1996, I examine a neglected factor in the attempts to explain this decline: the changing media coverage of the Court. I show that the entrance of a second, commercial television channel (Channel Two) in 1993 had a profound impact on the way the Court was depicted. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, I argue that, because of patterns of coverage dictated by the needs of commercial media, the Court’s long-standing mythical image started to crumble in 1993. Contrary to prevalent claims that attribute the change in the Court’s public image solely to developments in its jurisprudence, I show that a shift in the medium covering the Court is partly responsible for the shift in the Court’s public image. With the entrance of infotainment, rather than continuing to present the Court as an institution that decides cases based on legal expertise, television framed the Court more and more as an institution that decides cases based on ideology and even on partisan politics.
Keywords: judicial empowerment, media coverage, institutional legitimacy
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