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Senators try again to get television cameras in federal courtrooms

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Senators try again to get television cameras in federal courtrooms

  • Legislation proposing televised camera coverage of courtroom proceedings would lead to better public understanding of the federal judiciary, senators say.

March 19, 2003 — Senators Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) March 6 reintroduced the “Sunshine in the Courtroom Act,” which would permit televised coverage of federal trials at the discretion of the judge.

“The best way to maintain confidence and a better understanding of the judicial system, where the federal judiciary holds tremendous power, is to let the sunshine in by opening up the courtroom to public scrutiny through broadcasting,” Grassley said in a March 6 statement.

Cameras currently are banned from all federal trial courtrooms, although cameras are allowed specifically by law or court rules in 49 states. In New York, the only state where cameras are not specifically allowed because the law allowing them expired, judges have recently found that the state’s constitution requires some camera coverage.

Similar bills introduced in 1999 and again in 2001 failed to make it through Congress.

The latest legislation proposes a trial period during which camera coverage would be allowed. The process would be evaluated at the end of three years.

According to Chad Groover, counsel for Grassley on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill would not require that cameras be allowed in the courtroom, but would instead leave the decision up to the judge.

“It would merely allow judges to use their own discretion to determine whether or not [televised coverage] would disturb judicial proceedings,” Groover said.

In support of their proposal, Schumer and Grassley point to the successful audiocast of Bush v. Gore in 2000, where the senators were able to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to permit a live broadcast of federal judicial proceedings for the first time.

“The decision to release an audio transcript in Bush v. Gore allowed millions of Americans to reach their own conclusions in one of the most important cases in America history,” Schumer said in a March 6 statement.

“A good portion of this country doesn’t have any comprehension of what goes on in federal judiciary proceedings. This would really help to change that,” Groover said.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act is strongly supported by news organizations nationwide, including Court TV and the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

“We are encouraged that this bill is being reintroduced in the Senate,” said Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president, in statement. “Our members have made television and radio coverage work at the state and local level and they can make it work in our nation’s federal courtrooms, too. As we have tried to do most recently in the sniper trials, we will continue our work to open up all courts to the American people.”

Court TV Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Henry Schleiff said in a statement that “Court TV has long advocated this important legislation,” and that he is “optimistic that it will soon receive the support of both Houses of Congress.”

(S.554) PC

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