Cameras in the Courtroom
This fall, Zacarias Moussaoui is scheduled to go to trial for his participation in the airplane bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Along with the media frenzy that accompanies a trial of this magnitude, a separate battle is being waged between Courtroom Television Network LLC (Court-TV) and the U.S. Government over the right of the former to televise trial proceedings.
The Government of the United States’ opposition is stated in a legal brief dated January 4, 2002. Their stance is that “the televising of federal criminal trials is prohibited by both Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 (‘The taking of photographs in the courtroom during the progress of judicial proceedings or radio broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom shall not be permitted by the court.’) and Local Rule 83.3 of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.” The Government contends that Rule 83 does not allow individual judges to grant the right to televise criminal proceedings, but that the rule applies “in all situations with no exceptions.”
In section II of the brief, the prosecution attacks the claims by Court-TV that the First Amendment protects their televising of proceedings. In summarizing several Supreme Court cases where the issue of cameras in the courtroom was brought to the forefront, the U.S. Government effectively shows that Court-TV cannot claim First Amendment protection.
Section IV finds the prosecution attesting that Court-TV has given no valid argument as to why the proceedings should be televised. They claim that while opening the courtroom to the public assures that the proceedings are conducted fairly, “there is no reason to believe that televising the proceedings widely would enhance the benefits to the administration of justice obtained through open trials.”
The prosecution also admits that the televising of proceedings increases the audience, and therefore increases the educational benefits, but argues that this alone “does not warrant a constitutional requirement that television cameras be allowed at criminal trials.”
The Government points out that in Estes v Texas, 381 U.S. 532 (1965), many potential pitfalls of televised proceedings are listed, including: “(1) the possibility that televising the proceedings will have a ‘direct bearing on (a juror’s) vote as to guilt or innocence’, (2) the possibility that jurors will be ‘preoccupied with the telecasting rather than with the testimony’, (3) the possibility that jurors will be influenced by television broadcasts of the proceedings or subjected to commentary or criticism from members of the public, (4) the difficulty of obtaining an unbiased venire if a retrial is required in a case where the first trial was televised….”
Court-TV’s brief requests allowance for cameras in the courtroom. It opens with the statement that all while fifty states permit some type of television coverage, and...