RTDNA renews support of Sunshine in the Courtroom Act

December 3, 2014 11:00

For more than three decades, RTDNA has been a leading advocate for allowing cameras and microphones in courtrooms across the country. Through years of cooperation between newsrooms, judges and attorneys, RTDNA has helped demonstrate how cameras at the local and state level have effectively provided the public an opportunity to see the judicial branch of government in action. However, despite years of success in lower courts and multiple pilot programs, judges have been slow to allow cameras at the federal level.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act seeks to change that, by permitting television and radio coverage of federal judicial proceedings, from federal district courts and circuit appeals courts to the United States Supreme Court. It would authorize the presiding judge of any U.S. district or appellate court, including the Supreme Court, to allow cameras and microphones to record and/or broadcast any proceeding. It also authorizes the Judicial Conference to issue mandatory guidelines for the use of broadcast equipment, and contains provisions to protect the identity of witnesses. The current version of the bill would sunset in three years, allowing Congress to review its effects before making the measure permanent.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet is holding a hearing on the House version of the bill, first introduced in 2013. Its Senate companion has languished in committee since last spring but could be revived if the House takes action.

As part of its role in urging passage of this important legislation, RTDNA has filed a statement with the Subcommittee, urging its members to pass the bill and encourage its speedy passage at the Committee and House level.

"Passage of this legislation will send a message to judges that giving the citizens access to courts through the electronic media is the public’s right and an opportunity for the federal judiciary, not an inconvenience," the statement reads in part. Passage would help with "creating greater transparency, increasing citizens’ knowledge and understanding of the federal court system, and advancing the public’s right to know."

The statement goes on to say, "Under present law, radio and television coverage of federal criminal and civil proceedings at both the trial and appellate levels is effectively banned.  It simply is not right that Americans form their opinions about how our judicial system functions based on what they see and hear on the latest episode of Judge Judy or CSI.  Nor does it make sense that the nominees for the Supreme Court are widely seen in televised hearings, only to disappear from public view the moment they are sworn in as justices.  In the same way the public’s right to know has been significantly enhanced by the presence of cameras in the House and then the Senate over the past two decades, H.R. 917 has the potential to illuminate our federal courtrooms, demystify an often intimidating legal system, and subject the federal judicial process to an appropriate level of public scrutiny."

As always, RTDNA will monitor progress of the bill and keep you informed. Members are encouraged to contact their Representatives in Congress and urge a "yes" vote.

Statement by the bill's author, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in support of the bill
Statement by co-sponsor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in support of the bill
Statement by Mickey Osterreicher, NPPA in support of the bill
Statement by Judge Julie Robinson of the Judicial Conferernce in opposition to the bill