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House passes bill to open federal courts to TV cameras

The House of Representatives earlier this month passed an amendment to the Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act that could open federal courts to television cameras.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, offered by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) was added as an amendment to the bill during a Judiciary Committee markup in October. The House approved the bill on a 375-45 vote.

The amendment allows federal judges to permit televising civil and criminal trials and appeals. The presiding judge would have the discretion to allow recording for radio or television, or to permit still photography.

It also offers safeguards for witnesses in federal judicial proceedings. The presiding judge, if requested to do so by any trial witness, juror, or other party, must order the face and voice of any party to be disguised or obscured to render the person making the request unrecognizable to the broadcast audience.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) have introduced two separate bills in the Senate to allow cameras in federal courtrooms. RTNDA President Barbara Cochran testified Nov. 9 before the Senate Judiciary Committee urging the Senate to take open federal courts to the electronic news media.

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