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Anti-cartel thrillers as a new film genre: How regulator-produced films portray and problematize cartels and communicate deterrence

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Abstract

This article directs the ‘visual turn’ in criminology to corporate crime, a topic that has been understudied by cultural criminologists. A recent trend of corporate crime movies suggests that film can compellingly critique economic crime and unethical business cultures. This article studies how law enforcement agencies, particularly competition authorities, have connected with this trend by using film in their communicative strategy. This article introduces the emerging genre of anti-cartel enforcement thrillers: regulator-produced realistic docudramas in which fictional cartels are exposed and punished. These films’ narratives about cartel enforcement are reconstructed by studying how the films portray cartels, perpetrators and their motives, and the regulator. An analysis of four films produced in four jurisdictions demonstrates that the films deter only to the extent that the local legal and political-economic context allows: the British film reflects that country’s neoliberal ‘pro-business’ climate, while the Swedish film depicts businesses as socially responsible and the Dutch film is pragmatic rather than moralistic. Only the Australian film is explicitly punitive in its narrative as well as its imaginary, and exemplifies the persuasive potential of film in enforcement.

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... Competition authorities are known to frame leniency as triggering 'a race to the authorities' between firms that struggle with the risks of their involvement in cartel conduct, distrust towards their 'partners in crime' and remorse (Stucke, 2015). Competition authorities actively present this frame within their regulatory communication (Van Erp, 2018). Through information on their websites, (social) media campaigns and movie clips, competition authorities portray leniency as an attractive choice for cartelists that are considering their options. ...
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Thus the Ian Norris case became more about the long and unfair reach of US law enforcement, with the Confederation of British Industry supporting a protest march of company directors to parliament. In relation to the NatWest Three (not a competition law case), Levi notes how the press even made comparisons between the three defendants and gross miscarriages of justice such as the, "Birmingham Six," and, "Guilford Four." In other cases of white-collar crime the media coverage becomes obsessed with the defendant’s fall from grace, turning the reporting of wrongdoing into a form of celebrity scandal. Examples of this include the reporting of Nick Leason’s £830 million fraud at Bearings Bank and more recently Bernar Madoff’s US$65 billion fraud. So what is the problem? Crucially, the media focus on the victim and the harm when reporting illegal acts, both of which are difficult to identify in cases of price fixing. It is for this reason that the media are disproportionately preoccupied by crimes of a violent, sexual or interpersonal nature, especially incidents which are apparently random. Readers and viewers immediately understand the harm involved in such cases, and feel in immediate fear of it. The typical perpetrator here also fits their preconceptions of what a wrongdoer should look like, rather than the faceless corporation or the smartly dressed businessman who perhaps looks a little too much like a, "normal," person. In most cartel cases the harm is remote and dispersed. Price fixing of an upstream product can cause enormous harm to the economy as a whole, as the extra cost is passed down the chain of production, but is likely to be dispersed among a large number of final consumers, each of whom may have paid only a little extra for the given product. This means there is no critical mass of harm (compare with an individual victim who has been mugged). 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Lessons from the US (where cartel enforcement only really took off in the late 1980s) suggest that media coverage can be maximised through careful case selection; at first targeting cartels directly affecting final consumers and those involving bid-rigging in public procurement. Early cases which particularly struck a chord with the US media included the bid-rigging of contracts to supply milk to schoolchildren and equipment to the military.
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This essay aims to contribute to an unobtrusive criminology of organisation. In particular its focus is on organisational imagineries of ethical business practice. The essay thus is about organisational imageries and imagination, as well as about the connections between those and what might roughly be called organisational justice. This essay tries to find out whether the imaginery of specific organisations holds come clues as to the boundaries (of imagination) within which textual or practical forms of organisational justice may take shape. This essay is part of a broader, though fairly recent research agenda that deals with the role and impact of imagination in organisational life.
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The past 30 years have seen vast changes in our attitudes toward crime. More and more of us live in gated communities; prison populations have skyrocketed; and issues such as racial profiling, community policing, and "zero-tolerance" policies dominate the headlines. How is it that our response to crime and our sense of criminal justice has come to be so dramatically reconfigured? David Garland charts the changes in crime and criminal justice in America and Britain over the past twenty-five years, showing how they have been shaped by two underlying social forces: the distinctive social organization of late modernity and the neoconservative politics that came to dominate the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980s. Garland explains how the new policies of crime and punishment, welfare and security—and the changing class, race, and gender relations that underpin them—are linked to the fundamental problems of governing contemporary societies, as states, corporations, and private citizens grapple with a volatile economy and a culture that combines expanded personal freedom with relaxed social controls. It is the risky, unfixed character of modern life that underlies our accelerating concern with control and crime control in particular. It is not just crime that has changed; society has changed as well, and this transformation has reshaped criminological thought, public policy, and the cultural meaning of crime and criminals. David Garland's The Culture of Control offers a brilliant guide to this process and its still-reverberating consequences.
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