Let cameras into court

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I recently argued, we the people deserve to have cameras in all our courtrooms (except maybe juvenile court) and our legislative bodies.

The latest case in point: the appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Radiating out from downtown Boston, millions of people have a keen interest in this case, and they all have a right to see this defendant. We have a right to hear him say “Not guilty.” We have a right to observe the performance of the government parties — the prosecutors, the judge, the guards, etc. We have the right to watch our government.

Instead, what we get is a chalk sketch like this one:

Suspected terrorist Margaret Small/AP

Suspected terrorist
Margaret Small/AP

We can do better, and we the people deserve better. 

If anybody knows of a good argument for continuing to ban cameras from federal courts, please leave a comment.



Filed under Boston, broadcasting, journalism history, media, Photojournalism, Supreme Court

6 responses to “Let cameras into court

    • profdaly

      That piece is stunningly bad (as are, alas, many of the opinion pieces in the Post, a once-great newspaper). Just for starters, does Kathleen Parker think it makes no difference if a pen-wielding journalist covers a trial?


  1. Kirsten Tullis

    Hi Prof. Daly! Interesting thoughts here on allowing cameras into federal courtrooms– I remember having these discussions frequently in several of my journalism classes at COM. And while I agree that “we the people” deserve to witness our democratic government’s legal proceedings in the interest of transparency, I do buy into a couple counter-arguments as to why cameras should be prohibited from federal courtrooms in special circumstances.
    We can agree that courtroom proceedings essentially hash out the evidence/arguments that the prosecution and defense teams have already laid out in their legal filings to present to the judge. In many cases, these legal filings contain extremely sensitive information (financial/health records, names of witnesses under protection, etc.) that have been filed under seal, meaning that no one outside of the judge and the parties to the case will ever see this information unless the judge rules to lift the seal. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t. But you can bet that some (if not all) of this evidence will be divulged during court proceedings. The issue then evolves from providing transparency in government proceedings to protecting the rights of private citizens which may very well be compromised if cameras broadcast such sensitive information to the general public. And since companies are often times a named party in some litigation, publicizing sensitive financial data, for example, could deal a major blow to the company’s ability to conduct future business.
    Additionally, I think that allowing cameras into a high-profile federal court case interferes with the accused’s right to a fair trial. Take the case against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for example: we all saw how many journalists showed up outside of the US District Court hoping to catch the first glimpse of Tsarnaev since he was dragged out of a boat in Watertown—imagine the chaos that would’ve ensued in the courtroom if photographers and camera crews were permitted inside. There is obvious competition among journalists to obtain the best coverage for their respective outlets, but packing the courtroom full of competing reporters is detrimental to the integrity of federal legal proceedings. Trust me, I wanted to see yesterday’s arraignment as much as the next person and I want whoever is responsible for the bombings to pay for his crimes, but I think camera clicks and jostling among journalists would’ve been unfortunate distractions from justice.


    • profdaly

      Points well taken. But I think judges have remedies (ruling on evidence, sequestering juries, etc.) for all those problems. In general, anything that can be heard and seen by the jury can be seen and heard by any member of the public who goes to the courtroom. The TV just expands the number of us who can see and hear.
      TV cameras have operated successfully in state courts for decades. They are in the Trayvon Martin courtroom in Florida, with no apparent harm. To me, it seems arbitrary that some courts are open and some are closed.


  2. Bob Gillingham

    I,too agree with you as does some faction connected with Russian TV. What are the courts afraid of?


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