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Debate Over Televising Federal Courtrooms

This courtroom sketch depicts Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during arraignment in federal court Wednesday, July 10, 2013 in Boston. (AP/Margaret Small)

This courtroom sketch depicts Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during arraignment in federal court Wednesday, July 10, 2013 in Boston. (AP/Margaret Small)

The federal court in Boston has been teaming with reporters over the last few months, primarily to cover the trial of alleged mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. With so much public interest in these cases, debate has renewed about whether federal courtrooms should allow video cameras to record the proceedings, or even broadcast trials live.

The news coverage relies on reporters in the courthouse to relay what happened, including expressions on defendants’ faces or the tone of witnesses’ voices. At Tsarnaev’s hearing, for example, the Boston Globe said his jumpsuit was large, making “him appear younger than his 19 years.” ABC News noted that he “appeared to smirk” while Fox News said he “smiled crookedly” and WCVB reported that he gave a “small, lopsided smile.”

Opponents have said televising trials could lead to grandstanding and endanger witnesses and victims in some cases. Supporters argue that increased transparency can create more of an understanding for and appreciation of the judicial process, as well as less reliance on a reporter’s interpretation of the courtroom atmosphere.

Guests

Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge and professor at Harvard University Law School. She has advocated for allowing video cameras in the courtroom, and testified in favor of cameras before Congress.

David Olson, professor at Boston College Law School. He used to be a patent litigator at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

More

United States Courts: A history of cameras in the federal courts.

SCOTUS Blog: Senators try again for cameras in the courtroom.

Boston Herald Opinion: Federal courtroom camera ban defies logic.

Washington Post Opinion: Take cameras out of the courtroom.

Boston Globe Opinion: Not far enough on cameras in courtroom.


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Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Wahoo_wa

    All branches of government should be easily observed by the public.

  • Kathy

    I have seen nothing good coming of televising government. All it does is create “C-Spam Warriors” who’s main interest is in playing the cameras rather than legislating in a rational manner.

  • J__o__h__n

    A trial isn’t a free for all like Congress. The judge controls the environment. A lawyer can’t pontificate to an empty room like the congressmen do on CSPAN. At a minimum live audio should be streamed.

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