Should Court Proceedings Be Televised?

At its heart, the issue of televising court proceedings revolves around a series of balances; that of guaranteeing the individual’s right to a fair trial set against the public’s right to transparent access to a crucial government function; the individual right to privacy versus a possible deterrent to corruption.

Those who would oppose cameras in the court room point out that the defendant is, in the eyes of the law, innocent and ought therefore to fully benefit from those same privacy rights granted to other citizens. Besides, an actual assumption of guilt will in practice be encouraged via exposure to a public largely unschooled in the nuances of criminal law.

This argument may be countered by an insistence on informed, educational broadcast commentary before the beginning of the trial, during recesses, and at the trial’s conclusion. In other words, if a context is provided, the viewing public may become more informed. Of course, this then opens up the possibility of political or other types of bias on the part of agenda-driven media companies.

The most notorious televised court case was the trial of Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson accused of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Unfortunately, the case’s notoriety itself prevents it from being a particularly useful example of the benefits versus the harms of media coverage of trials, being described as a full-blown media circus, often by the very media covering it.

There certainly appears to be a sense that high profile TV trials tend to create a skewed or abnormal reaction on the parts of all concerned: judges, lawyers and even juries.

Whatever the truth—and further research will likely be required—the final persuasive argument rests with those who are cautious about the use of television in court rooms, arguing that the public’s right to know is not currently thwarted by various tools, such as access to court transcripts and other types of freedom of information.

All in all, it is a nuanced debate and one without a clear winner at this point.

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