This morning Hannah argued the case for cameras in courtrooms. Now reader Charlie Lindlar argues against. Charlie is a journalism graduate from the London College of Communication and currently works at The Huffington Post UK.
The world is getting smaller. With the rise of television, rolling news and, more recently, social media, we are now surrounded by media coverage, analysis and instant reaction.
The underappreciated trade of court reporting predates all three of these. It is a skill for trained journalists, versed in the workings of the law, with a deep understanding of judicial process and the nuanced nature of British law.
Lord Neuberger’s recent recommendations that civil courts should introduce televised trials to increase public awareness and knowledge of the judicial system is an admirable, sensible aim.
However, such a move could jeopardise the quality of court reporting in the country, especially if extended to criminal trials.
Firstly, the short attention spans and impatience inherent to televised events do not contrast well with the courts. Trials take time; long testimonies, questionings, cross-examinations and sometimes-lengthly jury deliberations are not as straight forward or dramatic as TV shows and melodramatic court thrillers would have us believe.
Instead, to televise a trial would be to invite the modern media to demand instant reaction. Imagine the glut of “what just happened, what does that mean?” questions to studio experts or reporters on the street (and then remember how many times we have seen ‘our man on the street’ sheepishly try to find their way around saying they know very little?).
Furthermore, trials by media are almost unanimously bad. Take the recent, awful shooting of the Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin. While his killer, neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman, quite rightly faces a second-degree murder charge over the incident, the extensive coverage and campaigning for justice for the teenager complicate matters and a fully-televised trial will only increase the hype around the trial.
That the trial is expected to be an open-and-shut case, in which the already-guilty Zimmerman is promptly sentenced, doesn’t help the judicial process of a country, and indeed a state, with already complex laws.
It isn’t unreasonable to believe that even just one member of any jury could be swayed by the knowledge that the whole public was watching them, waiting for them to make the decision the public desperately want.
Though that case is American, the same principles of televising trials apply. Increasing the pressure on a jury and shortening the period that the media have to digest a trial and carefully piece together coherent, non-emotional reports is a detriment to court reporting.
Introducing television cameras to criminal trials in the UK would have the same effect.
High-profile cases like Zimmerman’s become spectacles. While high-profile cases such as the recent trial of footballers Clayton McDonald and Ched Evans largely deserve the coverage they are given. But if televised trial were to expose the at-times judgmental British public to details of sensitive cases would require careful implementation to not distort the court process and harm trials.
These cases need time, context and careful description, as is currently supplied by standard court reporting, in order to be covered in the best possible way. Court reporting as it stands, with a reporter, pad and pencil, watching and listening carefully from the press gallery is the best method for that.
So who do you agree with? Are you FOR or AGAINST allowing TV cameras into courtrooms? Let us know what you think.
- DEBATE | Cameras in courtrooms: FOR The UK is finally making moves to televise the court...
- How to do court reporting, part 3: Some final tips You may have seen that I’ve been doing a bit...
- How to do court reporting, part one: Tips for going to court Court cases can be great places to pick up a...
- How to do court reporting, part two: Writing up the report Following my post last week about going to court, I...
- Do modern journalists still need the skill of shorthand? | DEBATE The past week everyone has been chatting on Twitter about...
After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look