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Reporters Committee regrets Supreme Court’s decision to bar camera coverage of Bush case

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  1. Freedom of Information
In deciding today to reject C-SPAN's request to televise the oral arguments in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board,…

In deciding today to reject C-SPAN’s request to televise the oral arguments in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, the U.S. Supreme Court missed a great opportunity to allow the public to see an important part of the judicial process, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said today.

“The Reporters Committee strongly and respectfully believes that significant national interests are at stake that would be served best by public broadcast of the arguments,” said Lucy Dalglish, Reporters Committee Executive Director.

By allowing a television camera in the courtroom to view the oral arguments, the Court could have provided the public with an unfiltered view of a matter that will continue to generate widespread public interest. “Most importantly, television access to the arguments would have assured the public of the fairness and non-partisanship of the proceedings,” Dalglish said.

Twenty years ago, the late Chief Justice Warren Burger observed, “People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.” “Never has this observation been more astute,” Dalglish said. “In today’s technology-driven society, television is often the only way the public can observe its public institutions.”

The benefits of televising the arguments can be seen by reviewing two recent examples where cameras were allowed to televise judicial proceedings.

The Florida Supreme Court allowed oral arguments in this matter to be broadcast from its courtroom on November 20, 2000 as it has for all other arguments since the 1980s. The arguments were broadcast nationwide in a format that was widely praised for its openness and fairness. The broadcasts were so important as to be carried by eight networks. The broadcast led to both greater understanding of the legal dispute and a greater appreciation for the Court’s efforts.

In addition, the Amadou Diallo murder trial that was completed on February 25, 2000 in Albany, N. Y., demonstrated that increased coverage fosters public support of the judiciary. On that day, a jury acquitted four New York City police officers in Diallo’s death. The jury’s verdict, like the rest of the trial, was televised live. In spite of the deep emotions that many New Yorkers felt about Diallo’s death, the decision of Justice Joseph C. Teresi to allow the public to watch the trial did not lead to grandstanding in the courtroom or increased tension outside of it.