Profile

Rob Leurs received his PhD from the University of Amsterdam. Since 2007 he is Professor at the department of Media & Culture Studies and Communication & Information Studies at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. His fields of interest are media and cultural studies, journalism and discursive constructions of public opinion, qualitative research methods, and quality assurance of educational processes.


Rob Leurs serves on the Examinations Board and is a former member of the Board of Studies. He is affiliated with the Research Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON) at Utrecht University. His research focuses on discursive media constructions of public opinion, in particular of morality.


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His current research project:

Covering genocide trials.

Journalists, victims and perpetrators and the ‘social circulation of meaning’ in the production of news on genocide trials – Cambodia, Iraq/The Netherlands, and Rwanda.


Most research on journalism adopts a classical approach towards the industrial apparatus of journalism. In contrast to this traditional perspective this research project proposes a cultural approach towards the 'social circulation of meaning' of news production. It focuses on the production of news of genocide trials: the construction of media discourses of attempts to prosecute atrocities in Cambodia, Iraq/The Netherlands, and Rwanda that form a 'mediapolis' (Silverstone 2007) which demonstrate the rhetoric on (the limitations) of being human.


The central research questions is how the interaction of journalists, representatives of the victims and representatives of the indicted criminals, from their specific discursive position, circulates meanings that form the basis of the international press coverage of genocide trials in Cambodia, Iraq/The Netherlands, and Rwanda. Through a discourse analytical approach (Laclau & Mouffe 1985) of interviews with journalists and the representatives of victims and indicted criminals the 'contemporary of the non-contemporary' (Bloch 1935), or in other words, the role of the media in the simultaneous existence of several forms of social conscience, becomes apparent.


The research will, by means of a two-fold comparative study (historico-geographical and analytical comparison), describe and analyse how the interaction occurs between the meanings that journalists, (representatives of) victims and indicted criminals construct in order to encode morality in the news on genocide trials. The three cases (Cambodia, Iraq/The Netherlands, Rwanda) are selected because of their representation of pronounced cultural, political, and legal contexts. The aim is to produce innovative case studies on international news production that can stimulate the theoretical and methodological debate of a cultural approach to journalism.


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Covering genocide trials. Case I: Iraq/The Netherlands


In 2005 Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat was brought to court on charges of supplying chemicals for the poison gases with which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein killed thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988. For this worst ever poison gas attacks on civilians, Van Anraat was indicted for genocide and complicity to war crimes. In the international media attention has been given to this trial in several ways: from television interviews with lawyers to newspaper descriptions of the suffering of survivors, and from rerunning historical documentary material to books by research journalists on the business network Van Anraat was involved in.


In order to answer the question how truth and meanings were encoded in news about this genocide trial, I’ve held semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in the production of journalistic media. This makes it possible to describe and analyze how journalists, members of the Department of Justice, members of Parliament and (representatives of) victims and indicted criminal attempt to transform their ‘viewpoints’ into media representations.


The interview and discourse analysis results show a binary opposition in dealing with journalistic media between on the one hand victims and lawyers and on the other the Department of Justice, Parliamentarians, and journalists. The first group has founded its involvement in producing news reports on the assumption that media is able to show the truth, and that this generates justice. In other words, victims and lawyers see media as guardians of a deeper (moral) truth. Contrary, even before the trial the second group has actively developed media strategies to define what the trial should include (in both a legal and a moral sense), what the events underlying the lawsuit are, what the construction of criminality is and those who belong to it, etc.


Thus, in short, the discourse analysis of the interviews with stakeholders show the binary assumptions underlying the dealing and cooperating with journalistic media of on the one hand 'true events as reality' and on the other 'media as reality construction'. By comparing these positions both cultural and ethical dimensions of the circulation of meanings in the production of news is uncovered.