Saturday, February 10, 2007

Televised celebrity murder trial: Part II

This month a judge in California will decide whether to allow television news cameras inside the courtroom of music producer Phil Spector’s murder trial. Spector has been charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson in his suburban Los Angeles mansion nearly four years ago.

The AP says the judge is “likely to allow cameras” at the trial and that numerous television news outlets have already requested that they be allowed to film the trial. Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler says “this is a trial of public interest” and that he would rather people see it for themselves than have commentators tell them about it.

I would argue that in this case cameras shouldn’t be allowed in the courtroom. To me it just sounds like O.J. Simpson part two. I’m all about televising trials for educational purposes, but this trial, like the Simpson trial, is not being aired for that reason. It’s being aired to satiate what the media believes is “public interest” in morbid events involving celebrities. The O.J. Simpson trial was an absolute media circus, and while Spector may not be as well-known as Simpson is to the general population, the media have a tendency to go out of control with coverage of celebrity trials, to name a few prime examples, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson and the late Anna Nicole Smith.

From a legal standpoint, I do think cameras are distracting and interfere with witness testimony. People are nervous enough, but to then have a dozen cameras aimed at you during your testimony…I’m nervous when I speak before three cameras in the studio!

Some may make the argument that the media is simply supplying what the public is demanding. But I find it ridiculous that people are more interested in these horrific crimes so far removed from them, just because they involve celebrities. I would personally like to know more about the crimes that are happening where I live – the incidents that I should truly be worried about. You hear about a crime when it happens, and sometimes when a person is charged, but unless there is something particularly newsworthy, a peg that the media can latch onto, the story just disappears, never to be heard from or covered again.

If the media is going to televise a trial, have a good reason for doing so and in my opinion, celebrity is not always the best reason.



At Saturday, February 10, 2007, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

TD, I have to disagree. I am a huge proponent of cameras in the courtroom in all cases (slight exception: minors as defendants and rape victims as defendants) Its one of the few arenas remaining wherein the public has no immediate picture-access and I think it would add to jounralists credibility and to the public's awareness of the judicial process if all courtrooms became open to camera coverage.


At Sunday, February 11, 2007, Anonymous LA said...

I like California's laws allowing video cameras to trials - I was surprised Illinois didn't allow them in. I agree with ER that it does add to the public's awareness. I certainly learn more about the judicial system and about the world!
The OJ trial did get out of hand - but I think it might have, even without the cameras. But I also agree with the judge here that it's a trial of public interest.

And I know this case is high-profile, but news stations send cameras to various trials that have become news or that were news when whatever happened happened, and usually I feel like courtroom coverage is illuminating. I always feel gypped when cameras weren't allowed in, and a few sketches by the artist are all I have to go on.

At Sunday, February 11, 2007, Anonymous VLD said...

I'm with ER. I understand that it can seem a bit intrusive to have cameras staring at you, but it's really no different than having a print reporter staring at you from the back of the courtroom.

Video is just how we get our information now. To relegate the transcription of court proceedings to the written word would be a great loss in both relevance and judicial transparency.

At Monday, February 12, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

But it is different.

It's flashing lights in your face, it's a camera lens staring you down rather than another face in a crowd with a pen and a notebook.

Sure, if you want to give the public access to these kinds of procedings then go for it, but do it across the board. This case does not deserve special treatment just because it involves a celebrity.


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