In our opinion: Allow cameras in state courtrooms; increase public access, transparency
Scott Snow, File, Deseret News
The Utah Judicial Council is considering a rule change that would instantly take Utah from one of the states with the most restrictive policies on allowing cameras and recording equipment in courtrooms to one of the most progressive. It's a good move that deserves the support of all people who value openness in government.
Allowing electronic media in courtrooms no longer qualifies as an experimental venture. The idea first became serious about 40 years ago. Today, 19 states have permissive policies toward cameras in courts. As the final report of a Judicial Council study committee makes clear, a lot of empirical studies have been conducted on the effects of these policies and the results have been unanimous. "Electronic media coverage of courtroom proceedings — whether civil or criminal — has no detrimental impact on the parties, jurors, counsel or courtroom decorum."
That pretty much answers all the objections to allowing greater electronic access to courts — objections that haven't changed much through the years.
The upside of allowing more cameras is that the public would have greater access to the workings of the judicial branch of government. It would gain a better understanding of how courtrooms work, which is important in an age when "reality" court TV programs during daytime hours qualify as entertainment and present misleading images.
Utah's proposed rule would have state courts operate under the assumption that audiovisual equipment, whether for live broadcasts or recordings, would be allowed unless a judge finds legitimate reason to decide otherwise. A separate rule would allow the public to bring cell phones, computers and recording devices into court unless specifically prohibited by a judge.
There would be reasonable limits. The media would not be allowed to photograph jurors until they are dismissed, nor could they show minors or documents that had not been admitted into the record.
Worries about judges, attorneys and witnesses hamming it up for the cameras seem quaint as the years pass. Video equipment is so ubiquitous in modern society, with virtually everyone carrying video equipment with them each day inside a cellphone, and video-watching choices are so numerous, that being on camera has lost its novelty. Again, studies referred to in the report indicate that behavior doesn't change much with cameras present, the first O.J. Simpson trial not withstanding.
A government by the people ought to be completely accessible to the people. CSPAN allows Americans to watch much of what Congress does live. The nation is full of local-access channels that provide live coverage of city council meetings and other local government proceedings. Such openness is important for keeping leaders accountable.
The proposed rule now rests with the Judicial Council's Policy and Planning Committee, which will present a final proposal to the Judicial Council. Until Aug. 14, the public has a chance to leave comments that will help guide the decision. We urge you to visit www.utcourts.gov/resources/rules/comments/, and express your support.
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