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Media in the Courtroom

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Essay title: Media in the Courtroom


The world that we live in is an electronically advanced society that broadcasts every incident of our daily lives. In the early 1950’s, television brought the media and the entertainment world up to a new echelon (Hengstler, 2006). Television serves as a medium that can exploit images and manipulate public opinion. McCall (1985) states that most people today choose to obtain news and other information through the television. In many different sources’ reports television is the number one source of news across the nation (Gardner, 1985). Televised information reaches a much higher number of people than any other venue. The way the world is today with trials of celebrities, or the trials of regular citizens catches the public’s attention very fast.

Besides the news programs in our local neighborhood or tri-state areas, television also attracts many viewers through court reality shows. Reality television shows like The People’s Court, Divorce Court, and Judge Judy all deal with the real people in the world we live in involved in civil cases and provide viewers with instant gratifications (Wohl, 2000). However, these cases that are shown on reality television are mostly trivial issues that consist of unpaid debts.

Watching other people’s situations and troubles that have to be handled in court on public television, appeals to the public’s appetite for entertainment. The boundary of what people consider entertainment is transforming dramatically as the years come. The public’s appetite for sensationalism, as depicted by the media, encourages more camera and media coverage of live trials. From the sensationalism of trials arises the argument and debate regarding the cameras in the courtroom. An unknown source once stated, “Freedom of the press, properly conceived, is basic to our constitutional system. Safeguards for the fair administration of criminal justice are enshrined in our Bill of Rights.” The televising of trial cases creates dispute and tension between the First Amendment rights of the media to report on the justice system and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury (Samaha, 1999). Differences of the cameras in the courtroom argue that the broadcasting of the trials offers the public an array of benefits and opinions of a certain case that’s being televised to the public. Televising court proceedings at the trial level has the potential to affect the conduct of the trial judges, jurors, and the witnesses involved with the case. This is endangering a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial trial as promised by the U.S. Constitution. Also, cameras can have a place in the courtroom where they don’t film the jury or show horrific graphics or images to the public watching the trial through the televised channel.

Distortions and Studies

Regardless of access, however, the public can still draw inappropriate conclusions of a certain trial/case. Senator Charles Grassley once stated that, “Cameras in the courtroom would solve the problem of limited seating, also providing access to anyone wanting to attend.” Due to the fact that the media in many different ways can distort actual trial proceedings through editing, the public can really understand what the case is about. Most viewers will see only clips of a trial, and other viewers will be able to watch a whole trial proceeding from beginning to end. Generally, most Americans receive greater access to news and other information through television and newspapers. There have been many studies on having the public’s knowledge of court trials could increase with the broadcasting of trials. From different studies that were performed, the studies try to prove that the public needs educating about the workings of our legal system. Roberts (1992) states that, she “has found that the public knows little about crime or the criminal justice system including crime-related statistics such as crime rates, and average sentences. Members of the public have little knowledge of the specific laws or with their legal rights.” Television in our daily lives has an increasing role due to our need of seeing what is going on in the world that we live in. False perception with the function of our justice system will likely not recover with continued editing or other media distortions.

Many people argue that blatant distortions of the judicial system compromise any educational purpose. The general public may not be able to distinguish between false realities that the media chooses to project, it will not necessarily contribute to the public’s education. Selected cases commonly involve high-profile or unusual cases. They also portray a less-than-typical case. A typical case receiving the most attention can create an impression

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