When I see commentaries like this Mankato (MN) Free Press opinion piece, Our View: Cameras in courtroom should proceed, citing a 20-year-old anomaly as the reason to bar cameras from courtrooms, I shake my head.
It’s not that I disagree with it. I do. Instead, it’s why a trial from two decades ago remains the standard bearer, or maybe that should be gold standard of, or actually the great barrier, to permitting public access to the nation’s courtrooms?
Here’s the Manakato Free Press editorial opening paragraph:
“The O.J. Simpson trial may have made for gripping TV, but it isn’t what the public would see if cameras were allowed in more Minnesota courtrooms.”
Neither the Simpson trial nor “gripping TV” is what the public sees in Los Angeles, California, or the other 35 or so states that allow courtroom-camera coverage. Although California tightened its courtroom-camera coverage rules a year or two after the Simpson trial, to primarily give trial judges more discretion over whether to allow cameras in cases they presided over, that state has continued to allow camera coverage. Among the hundreds of trials in California since Simpson at which cameras were permitted was Phil Spector’s murder trial, both the 2007 trial and the 2009 retrial.
Dozens of high-profile trials in other states in the past twenty years have also been televised, most with much hoo-ha. Then there was the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa just this year, which was the first trial ever televised in that country. Although some were media clamors at trials such as the 2011 Casey Anthony trial, that was by no means the fault of cameras in the courtrooms. Rather it was the same kind of media hype that turned a number of trials into media spectacles, such as the 2004 trial of Scott Peterson for murdering his wife, Laci, and Martha Stewart’s obstruction-of-justice trial, also in 2004, neither of which had camera coverage.
There are far more compelling reasons than not to permit camera coverage of trials in this country. The Mankato Free Press cited one in the subhead of its piece:
“Why it matters: The more access the public has to how the criminal justice system works, the more they will know about it.”
Another, and I think a more important, reason is because it should be the public’s right to be able to observe the country’s and every state’s justice systems at work.