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These are some of the negative effects that broadcasting in court can have

Filming in the Pistorius case led to frequent close-ups of the victim’s family sitting in court, writes Paul Lambert.

Paul Lambert

COURTROOM BROADCAST, OR to be more specific, television courtroom broadcasting (TCB) is a topic which attains occasional public interest but perhaps not the level of consistent and considered analysis that it deserves.

In Scotland, the sentencing segment of the criminal trial of Alexander Pacteau is to be broadcast this morning.

The obvious Irish interest being that the victim, Karen Buckley, is Irish.

Frequently the discussion regarding television court broadcasting is immediate in terms of an instant case, and also opinionated in terms of advocating for or against TCB.

Karen Buckley death Source: Crown Office

While there is some evidence of positive effects of TBC, there is also evidence of negative effects. However, the predominant point to be made is that the overall quality and volume of research onto the effects of TCB is very small indeed. Most “research” is self-report opinion based.

The Scottish case involves only one particular segment of the case, the trial sentence hearing. As such, there have been arguments that these types of broadcast are at the least damaging end of the scale or have the least possibility of adverse effects.

Distraction 

From an effects research perspective, research has not yet backed up these arguments. In fact the person in court whom is often going to see the cameras the most, is the actual judge, as opposed to other courtroom participants.

Much will also depend of the types of television cameras (large, small, fixed, moving, etc), their locations, and also if there is a camera operator involved. As with all of these issues, it depends on what forms of TCB are being considered.

On the other end of the scale are examples of camera operators holding cameras and walking about in the courtroom, noisy equipment, wires, more than one courtroom camera operator.

Tweeting and Selfies

While some people may have argued that the Pistorius case was a great example of television courtroom broadcasting, I would suggest the opposite is the case.

South Africa Pistorius Trial Source: AP/Press Association Images

Similar to many of the notorious and judicially criticised cases in the US, the Pistorius court made the rules up on the spot.

It frequently had to make changes. In a number of instances the court had to issue warnings and admonishments. Atypical of the US examples of TCB, there were many cameras and also many still cameras in court.

This could be viewed as an example counter to seeking to having the minimal (adverse) effect possible. In addition, even in the US, there are frequently restrictions on filming the public in court, whereas in this instance there were frequent close-ups of the victim’s family sitting in court.

South Africa Pistorius Trial Family members of Oscar Pistorius, left to right, sister Aimee Pistorius, aunt Lois and uncle Arnold Pistorius sit in court, during his trial, in Pretoria Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Pistorius case is also an example of where Tweeting and selfies became a problem issue for the court. These also appear to have been dealt with on an ad-hoc basis.

Purpose of TCB

The Scottish case also raises out-of-court issues. It is possible to consider that the motivations for the broadcast in Scotland are (a) the notoriety of the murder itself, (b) the large public attention and indeed public support involved in the search, and (c) that the victim and her family are from outside of the jurisdiction, namely, Ireland.

It might also be borne in mind that while TCB has been permitted in Scotland for many years now, it is still uncommon for a case or for a sentence hearing to be broadcast. This also links to the general argument as to whether TCB should show unusual or general type cases.

It further links to the important issues regarding all television courtroom broadcasting, i.e. what is the purpose of the TCB? Education, information, entertainment or cheap programming content? The few empirical studies which looked at the educational-argument did not find that it resulted in educational effects.

The Scottish case is also interesting from the perspective of out-of-court issues. It would be interesting to consider whether there is an increasing trend in murder, assault and human tragedy type cases, to focus and involve the victims or family of the victim.

Television court broadcast, if and where permitted should be considered, purposeful, identified in advance and have appropriate effects research undertaken beforehand.

Paul Lambert is the author of Television Courtroom Broadcasting Effects (University Press of America) and Television Courtroom Broadcasting: Distraction Effects & Eye Tracking (Intellect Press).

Read: Karen Buckley killer’s sentencing to be broadcast live on TV>

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Paul Lambert

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