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Audio-visual Coverage of Judicial Proceedings

The City Bar supports legislation authorizing audio-visual coverage of judicial proceedings, which the Legislature long ago allowed to expire. More than two decades ago, the City Bar helped spearhead an experimental telecast of New York Court of Appeals arguments, a project which led to a nationally televised program that won an ABA Gavel Award, and eventually to the regular telecasting of the Court’s proceedings. The City Bar has consistently backed legislation establishing audio-visual “experiments” in New York’s trial courts and believe these experiments lend powerful support for the adoption of a law which would permanently permit and facilitate cameras and broadcasts of trial proceedings in New York state courts. Having reviewed the results of the experiments as well as the results of other research on cameras in the courtroom, it is our conviction that, with the incorporation of appropriate safeguards, justice is best guaranteed when the public is informed, and it is clear that the public is best informed when it is able to observe the judicial process.

We urge that access to courtrooms by electronic and photographic means be governed by the same standard that allows physical access to the courtroom by the press and public. Such access must, however, remain subject to the ability of every court to exclude cameras and microphones when necessary to protect individual rights as well as to protect individual witnesses who persuade a judge that appearing on camera would have a particularly harmful impact. It must also remain subject more generally to the ability of each judge to control the proceedings before him or her in the interests of assuring a fair and orderly trial. We disagree with the notion that permanent legislation should include a provision that any counsel in a case may veto audio-visual coverage. Such a provision would undermine the goal of ensuring a public broadly informed about its judicial system.