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RTNDA president urges passage of law allowing cameras in federal courts

Radio-Television News Directors Association president Barbara Cochran told members of the House Judiciary Committee Thursday that “there is no compelling reason to stall” passage of the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007, which would grant all federal judges the discretion to let cameras into court as part of a three-year program.

RTNDA members don’t think it makes sense that federal judicial nominees are put under close scrutiny in the Senate during their confirmation process only to be locked behind a cloak of secrecy once they are confirmed and begin administering justice, she said. Members of the association have demonstrated that TV and radio coverage of state and local courts in the broadcast media works.

Allowing them to do so from federal district courts to the Supreme Court “is the right thing to do as a matter of sound public policy,” she said. “The anachronistic, blanket ban on electronic media coverage of federal proceedings conflicts with the values of open judicial proceedings and disserves the people,” she said.

The RTNA president also explained to the committee that advances in electronic newsgathering technology have minimized the potential for disruption in court. Cameras have shrunk in size and no longer require bright artificial lighting to produce acceptable images. Additionally, “pool coverage” by the electronic media can further reduce the amount of equipment and personnel otherwise needed, she said.

The existing federal ban also has deprived the American public of “first-hand coverage of significant issues” coming before federal courts, such as whether the government has the right to seize private property and transfer ownership to developers to encourage economic growth, she said.

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