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Court TV opts not to appeal camera ruling in Moussaoui case

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Jan 24, 2002    

Court TV opts not to appeal camera ruling in Moussaoui case

  • The trial-coverage network said it would press Congress to change court rules that bar cameras in federal courtrooms, hoping changes would be in place in time for accused terrorist’s trial in October.

Court TV, known for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of the nation’s most sensational cases, decided on Jan. 23 that it wouldn’t appeal a judge’s ruling that forbade televised broadcasts of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.

Instead, the network plans to turn toward Congress and support efforts to change court rules to allow cameras in federal courtrooms. Federal court rules currently impose a ban on cameras in the courtroom.

“Hopefully, Congress will expeditiously approve the legislation now before it, which would provide the necessary discretion and safeguards to all concerned and would allow our nation to witness the proceedings or portions thereof in upcoming trials of worldwide significance,” said Henry Schleiff, the network’s chairman and CEO, in a statement.

Court TV, later joined by C-SPAN, filed a motion with the court, asking it to rule that the ban on cameras was unconstitutional. Court TV also proposed that it would block out the faces of any witness who requested that his or her face not be shown, and stated that it would not show the jurors.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Court TV. Lawyers for Moussaoui, who faces six counts of conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, said their client would only approve cameras if there were no pre-trial television coverage or rebroadcasts.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema denied the media’s motion on Jan.18, stating that the ban on cameras in the courtroom is not unconstitutional. Brinkema also said the broadcasts could cause security problems.

Schleiff said he disagreed with Brinkema’s decision but said the network would support legislation currently in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 28 approved Senate Bill 986, which would give judges presiding over federal trials and appeals the discretionary power to permit photography, electronic recording, broadcasting and televising of court proceedings if they chose. The bill, if approved, would require judges who allow cameras into the courtroom to give witnesses the option of having their faces and voices obscured during broadcast coverage. The Court TV statement did not address the fact that even if the bill becomes law, the decision to allow cameras would still be up to Brinkema, who has made it clear cameras would not be welcome in her courtroom in a case like this.

The bill, if it should become law, would lapse after three years.

(S. 986; U.S. v. Moussaoui; Media Counsel, Lee Levine, Levine Sullivan & Koch, Washington, D.C.) PT

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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