The UK is finally making moves to televise the court room. An Edinburgh court sentencing was recently filmed for the first time and a plan to extend the use of cameras in courts is expected to be announced in the Queen’s May speech.
Today Wannabe Hack Hannah and reader Charlie Lindlar debate the move. First up, Hannah argues the case FOR cameras in court.
Critics claim that televising the court room turns it into a “circus”, with trials by media and extra pressure on judge and jury. However, we have on our screens two examples of the good cameras in court can do: the Norwegian trial of the mass murderer Anders Breivik and the Leveson Inquiry.
Televising Breivik’s trial allows all Norwegian citizens to engage with the justice that may bring some sense of closure to a national tragedy. Yet it has been far from a “trial by the media”; Breivik has been subjected to rational interrogation without a hint of hysteria – and that has been more damning than any second-hand court report.
Breivik’s trial has also demonstrated a sensible use of media checks and censorship, of the kind which would be put into the hands of UK judges. For example, broadcasters were banned from televising Breivik’s opening statement to prevent him from using the courtroom as a podium for his views.
And while the Leveson inquiry has at times felt like Britain’s greatest soap opera with its revolving cast of celebrities and media moguls, it has offered the British public an unrivalled insight into their national press. It has opened up the industry’s shady dealings in a medium that feels more democratic and transparent to an audience now rightly suspicious of the press.
Some argue that broadcasters and audiences will treat courtroom footage as entertainment. Quite the opposite, I believe. Until I started studying media law, all I (thought I) knew about the justice system was gleaned from Hollywood drama – imagine my surprise when there were no last-minute witnesses, angst-ridden juries and judges screaming “order!” Cameras in court will act as powerful educational tools, working to remove the mystique and misunderstandings that cloud a justice system meant to be working for the public.
Ultimately, the end result will be greater openness, and that can only be aspired to. In February the heads of BBC News, ITN and Sky News sent a letter to Cameron, Clegg and Milliband. “The ability to witness justice in action, in the public gallery, is a fundamental freedom,” they wrote. “Television will make the public gallery open to all.”
Reporters can already tweet from court and publish line-by-line updates, as Sky did with its groundbreaking coverage of the Soham murders trial. Why not fully pull back the curtain and let the public scrutinise the courts that work to defend their rights?
Do you agree with Hannah? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter. And check back this afternoon for the other side of the debate: Charlie Lindlar arguing AGAINST cameras in court.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look