Media in the Courtroom

In State v. Shepherd, 76 S. W. 79 the court admonished: “It is the liberty of the press that is guaranteed, not the licentiousness. It is the right to speak the truth, not the right to bear false witness against your neighbor (Cited in Aguirre, A. l995). ” Thus, the post-litigation, newspaper litigation, fair criticism of the court, its proceedings, and its members are allowed. However, even though a case has been terminated, if publication brings the court into disrespect or scandal or where there is clear and present danger that the administration of justice would be impeded, the person liable can be cited for contempt (l995).

It is emphasized that the protection and safety of life, liberty, property and character, the peace of society, the proper administration of justice and even the perpetuity of our institutions and form of government, imperatively demand that everyone, lawyer, layman, citizen, stranger, newspaperman, shall treat the courts with proper respect and shall not attempt to degrade them, or impair the respect of the people, or destroy the faith of the people in them. When the temples of justice become polluted or are not kept pure and clean, the foundation of free government is undermined, and the institution itself threatened.

Freedom of speech includes the ancillary right to access to information on matters of public concern. Judicial proceeding is a matter of public concern. However, media’s presence inside the courtroom greatly affects not only the public, but the judicial institution itself in its administration of justice. Media coverage affects the rights of court participants during the trial and can impair the jury deliberations and ability to arrive at the appropriate verdict. Analysis/Discussion Press freedom as protected by the Constitution means that there must not be prior restraint.

Prior restraint means official government restrictions on the press or other forms of publication in advance of actual publication or dissemination. The most blatant example is censorship. The New York Times published a classified study entitled “History of the US Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy. ” After the Vietnam War, the foreign policy was supposed to be burned. The US government in a petition for injunctions enjoins the publication claiming that its continued publication poses a serious threat to the US security.

New York Times on the other hand, asserts that the injunction violates the people’s right to expression and information. The majority opinion in the New York Times v. US (403 US 713) held that to stop the publication of the study would abridge the freedom of the press and curtails the right of the people to be informed on matters of public concern. It amounts to censorship (cited in Aguirre, A. l995). The media has played an important rule in the history of the United States. Public opinion however, is not impressed on the way media’s role is at play in society. Media has to be handled and restrained in its berth.

To keep the public informed, the media girded with its Constitutional right of freedom of the press, in time, started to cover court proceedings and outcomes. Through the media the public witness how the judicial system works and watch the proceedings in the comforts of their homes. However media inside the courtroom greatly affects the administration of justice. It creates adverse effect on the witnesses, the lawyers, the defendants and the jury. Newspaper accounts of a case are not subject to rules of evidence and other court safe-conducts that newspaper information is capable of prejudicing the jury.

Press coverage such as filming and broadcasting courtroom proceeding would expose the defendant to disrepute thereby compromising his right to due process. Pre-trial publicity may create a public sentiment against the defendant so as to challenge the impartiality of the jury. It was held that the judge has the duty to preclude media from stepping into the courtroom proceedings if the need arises to protect the dignity of the court. In Nebraska Press Assoc. v. Stuart, 427 US 539, 543-544 (1976), the plaintiff argued whether the court can put prior restraint on media to cover stories contrary to the interest of the defendant.

With this case, the court granted the presence of media inside the courtroom with conditions that statements of defendant with other people and at the time of arrest shall not be published. Likewise, medical information, the nature of the assault and identity of victims shall likewise not be released. Justice Burger however, under the Sheppard ruling, remarked: that even ‘pervasive, adverse [pretrial] publicity… does not invariably lead to an unfair trial’, on account that the jurors have the chance to pose publicity in the right latitude, the judge has the ability to extenuate the possible harm.

He also noted that the First Amendments is not absolute; it is apparently reasonable and valid that prior restraints could be indispensable where no other measures to control the media were available to the court (Cited in Howard, H. ). All court proceedings are matters of public records. Where the public is allowed; the media cannot be denied access. The media inside the courtroom has the right to record the proceedings for the information of the public. However, where the defendant’s right to a fair trial is in question, as in juvenile and sexual assault cases, the court has the ground to close the courtroom from the media.

To protect the rights of the parties and dignity of the proceedings, the court may promulgate rules and regulations and see to it that the media does not distract the systematic disposition of cases. Allowing cameras in the court remain disturbing for many lawyers in Minnesota despite the positive effect in neighboring states allowing the use of cameras in media reportage inside the courtroom. The alleged ‘chilling effect’ on the witnesses and victims is the usual reason abduced. According to the anti-camera advocates, the mere thought that ‘being in court subjects one to camera scrutiny (Cited in Levine, R.

H. , 2008),’ may decline to bear witness or report crimes even in cases where cameras are not permitted. Lawyers and advocates should know the impingement as they have real world feels of the situation. Some people in the locality, the poor, uninformed or uneducated, the children, are not aware that there are exemptions or how these prohibitions enforce. The effect of camera coverage will prevent these people to come out and testify. Pro-camera advocates however, believe that no evidence can prove of the existence of ‘chilling effect’ on witnesses.

No states where cameras have been allowed in courtroom lend credence as to the said ‘chilling effect. ’ A media attorney said that in 35 states that permit use of cameras has not reported any ‘chilling effect’ on witnesses. Another common issue is the ‘sound bites,’ or a very short line or speech offered by media on sensational cases, no two sides of the case is afforded the public, sufficient to educate and inform the people about court proceeding and decisions. Advocates however, contended that when the public is aware even in ‘sound bites’ that a murderer has been convicted will leave an impact on the credibility of the judicial system.

It deters other people to break the law and reassures the public that justice still prevails (2008). Bringing criminals to justice is a serious matter. The judicial system should be taken earnestly for its complexity that it deserves respect and dignity. With electronic media coverage, a courtroom has been turned into an entertainment rendezvous, with the judicial proceedings as spectacular event, a theatrical performance with the complaining witness and defendant as lead actors, lawyers and prosecutors as supporting actors and other court participants in minor roles. The highly sensational O. J.

Simpson case is an example where trial has become a major entertainment spectacle with full media coverage. The trial was more popular than super bowl and more entertaining than any other highly publicized event in the history of judicial prosecution. It was very unfortunate to make a parody out of a murder trial. The public was so amused with the kind of enjoyment notwithstanding the seriousness of the case, causing injury to a duly constituted authority entrusted with the most sacred duty of protecting the rights of the people. Conclusion Electronic media coverage is a noteworthy development accessible to all judicial systems.

Other international courts allow court proceeding to be on camera while other jurisdictions are still experimenting on the phenomenon. The degree of tolerance on media cameras differs from state to state. Other states are liberal while others are strictly regulatory. The possibility of court distraction is controlled by appropriate rules and guidelines and television coverage has shown to have conjured the dignity of judicial proceedings. Technology has decimated the hazard of disruption of trial processes. With the proper regulation of media presence in courtroom, the concern for psychological effect on the participants has been dispelled.

Evidences prove that the perceptions of those who have personally experience electronic media coverage are more positive than those who have not experienced the same. It has been argued that electronic media coverage violates other constitutionally protected rights of party-litigants. It could be prejudicial to the interest of defendants under the due process clause and results in unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of other participants. To televise the jury while in the performance of duty could expose them to possible risk.

However, under the principle of open justice; the right to privacy must give way to effect a fair administration of justice. Under the balancing of interest rule, public interest carries weight greater than right to privacy. Recent development has resolved the issue of importance among rights through the imposition of restrictions and prohibitions. It has become discretionary on the court whether to prohibited media coverage during jury selection process. The objective in allowing media coverage with cameras is to educate the people and acquaint the public to judicial proceedings. Unfortunately however, such goal is far from realization.Electronic coverage only sensationalizes cases and distorts the orderly administration of justice. The cost outweighs the benefit.

References Aguirre, A. (l995). Postulate in Constitutional Law-II. Revised and Updated. Edition l995. Lex Scripta Publishers, Inc. Manila, Philippines Howard, H. The Courts and media coverage. Lectic Law Library. Retrieved on November 28, 2008 from http://www. lectlaw. com/files/jud08. htm Levine, R. H. (2008). No lights, no camera, no action. Bench & Bar of Minnesota. Retrieved on November 28, 2008 from http://www2. mnbar. org/benchandbar/2008/jul08/camera. htm