Messy Business: Media Representations of Administrative Sanctions for Corporate Offenders
Law & Policy , Volume 35 - Issue 1-2 p. 109- 139
Enforcement against corporate offenses is increasingly carried out by specialized regulatory agencies. These often use publicity as a regulatory tool, in the expectation that disclosure of sanctions will invoke the threat of reputational damage and broadcasts a moral message about desired behavior. This article investigates how media represent administrative offenses in the Dutch financial market, in terms of punitiveness for offenders and in terms of the message about the wrongfulness and harm of offenses. Media coverage of administrative fines is messy in several senses. First, adverse publicity is unpredictable and disproportionally affects small firms in comparison with large, professional firms. In addition, it is also messy in terms of its contribution to the prevention of corporate misbehavior. Media do not unequivocally disapprove of financial market offenses. Rather than clarifying the demarcation line between right and wrong, media describe financial market behavior as a grey zone where differences of opinion can exist over whether certain behavior constitutes an offense. More than a publicity sanction or moral message, media was found to frame offenses by retail banks and capital market firms in terms of the power struggle between firms and the regulatory authority.