Should courts be televised?

What appears to be a progressive move, the court of appeal in England and Wales is expected to begin videotaping courtrooms while court is in session. On this side of the pond there has been some reticence to allowing court proceedings to be recorded for public consumption, especially after the sensationalism of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial. However, concerns surrounding broadcasting the British court are much more practical than the worry that judicial proceedings will be reduced to reality T.V. Among them are the possibility of profanity-such as reading testimony or statements that include language that may be inappropriate for some viewers. Protection of trade secrets, confidential, proprietary, information as well as the identity of witnesses who wish to remain anonymous (beyond the court room) is another concern. To address these matters the courts have simply placed the video journalist under the jurisdiction of the court, and must obey court orders. Including whether to pause or to enjoin the video of sensitive witnesses. Read more about the televising of courts in England on the Guardian’s website.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States has opposed video taping of any kind for decades. In fact, it is a federal crime to do so since at least 1946. On numerous occasions legislators have attempted to pass laws that would permit oral arguments to be documented by video, a move they say would increase transparency. Here is an interesting timeline on C-Span’s attempt to gain approval to record court proceedings which have been roundly rejected. Why is our Supreme Court so resistant to this technology? One reason is the fear that oral arguments will be reduced to “sound bites” rather than substance. There are plenty of articles available online about technology, and the Supreme Court of the United State’s adamant refusal to allow video in the court room.

At some point the Supreme Court will hopefully yield on this issue. The highest court in the free world regularly decides cases that impact broad swaths of the population, such as gay marriage, healthcare reform, and the impact technology has on Fourth Amendment protections. Counselors in most court rooms across the country are routinely recorded in both state and federal courts. It seems like a double standard to permit citizens and lawyers to be subject to video recording while the Supreme Court justices hide behind a veil of privacy.


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