Recently, Atlanta’s Fulton County Superior Courtroom was livestreaming and broadcasting on local stations and national news outlets for the President Donald Trump hearings. The camera shots were from a locked down camera, likely a PTZ camera, located in the back of the courtroom. The angles weren’t the best and there were no cutaways. Lawyers gave opening arguments filled with legalese. In a word, this was tedium, and you might ask, “Who’s going to sit and watch this?” Aside from journalists and, perhaps, other lawyers, very few people will watch these proceedings at length. Because this will likely last for months, you can expect hundreds of hours of video will be archived. However, this is not a waste of resources nor bandwidth. Broadcasting events like historic trials, congressional proceedings or even local city council meetings, in their entirety, is important.
Some call the media the Fourth Estate. You may have learned in your High School Civics Class that the United States has three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. These three estates have a series of checks and balances. The media provides a fourth layer of oversight. This has been a foundational motivation for journalism practically since the government was founded. Think of some of the historic trials captured on video, from Rosenberg to Emmitt Till to O.J. Simpson. Courtroom coverage provides a window for the world to see the system in action, for better or worse.
Being that window is exactly why these kind of video recordings are important. To stream a courtroom proceeding continuously communicates to the world that there is nothing to hide. In fact, if a courtroom is closed to the media, there is a perception that something must be wrong.
Another factor in broadcasting and streaming hearings in their entirety is historical record. Imagine being able to watch something significant from centuries ago. What if C-SPAN was present at the Continental Congress? What if we could hear the words and see the faces of our founding fathers? That’s exactly what will happen centuries from now. Instead of reading about history, our great, great, great grandchildren will watch it as it happened.
However, for a trial to be truly impartial and unbiased, some things should probably stay off-screen. For example, a jury could find a man innocent of a crime, but because of the damaging evidence put on display in the trial, his town will never believe in his innocence. Or, if the court hearings include highly confidential information, a live recording would broadcast that information to the rest of the world.
So, should we record or livestream every argument a court hears for the public? The answer is up to debate. Though, for those court hearing recordings released to the public, they are important documentations of what exactly happen on those fateful days.