As a new legislative session approaches, the NPPA is hopeful that the New York State legislature will finally permit cameras in the courtroom. To that end, the NPPA drafted a letter signed by 36 media organizations, to Governor Andrew Cuomo expressing its support for expanded audiovisual coverage of courtroom proceedings.
There’s evidence that the tide is already turning on the issue in New York. In a speech last year, New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a legislative proposal to expand camera coverage of courtroom proceedings. Ultimately, however, it is the legislature’s prerogative to establish more permissive access laws. The benefits from such a move would be significant, explained NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher:
“It will bring transparency to the judicial system, provide increased accountability from litigants, judges, and the press and educate citizens about the judicial process. Audio-visual coverage will allow the public to ensure that proceedings are conducted fairly, and, by extension, that government systems are working correctly. We expect that the watchful eye of the public will demand increased accountability from all courtroom participants. Claims of sensationalistic or inaccurate reporting will be readily verifiable by a public able to view the underlying proceedings for itself.”
Osterreicher pointed to a series of empirical studies and experiments that tend to refute claims that audiovisual equipment is obtrusive and hinders defendant’s fair trial rights. The evolution of both audiovisual equipment and broadcast media stands at the core of the discussion. Simply put, the traditional justifications offered for banning cameras from the courtroom are no longer a concern.
“There are no more whirling, noisy cameras. There are no more glaring lights. Nor does a thundering herd of technicians have to go in and out of the courtroom to set up and tear down their gear. Modern equipment is inaudible, requires no additional lighting and can be operated by a limited number of trained professionals,” noted Osterreicher. Further, “their presence in the courtroom and the images that they convey provide a compelling public service without infringing upon the constitutional or statutory rights of any affected persons or institutions. Respect for the dignity, decorum and safety of the courthouse is not only maintained but enhanced by having cameras in the courtroom,” he said.
The expansion of cable broadcasting and the Internet is also critical, as media groups are now free from time and programming constraints and can often show live feeds of courtroom proceedings from start to finish.
Osterreicher added that any legislation should allow judges the discretion necessary to permit cameras while preserving the rights of litigants and the sanctity of the courtroom.
The desirability of the free exchange of ideas is one of the foundational tenants of the First Amendment. As such, lawmakers should look closely at the rationale for any policy that places a bottleneck on the flow of information, Osterreicher said.
“Society can ill afford to let the arbitrary and speculative objections of some antagonistic to the electronic press infringe upon the public’s right to observe proceedings in our courts by lens-capping the very means by which modern society receives news and information.”
Numerous states have considered measures similar to those contemplated in New York, and Congress has even considered passing legislation to reverse the longtime ban on cameras in the Supreme Court, the most recent effort stalling in Senate committee last June.
The NPPA had previously submitted an amicus brief to the New York State Court of Appeals supporting cameras in the courtroom the last time this issue came before the court in 2005.
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