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Examining why there were no cameras in the courtroom

Examining why there were no cameras in the courtroom

February 12th, 2012 in News

This courtroom sketch, by News Tribune artist Jim Dyke, shows Alyssa Bustamante as she apologized to the family of her victim, Elizabeth Olten. Cameras and other electronic devices were not allowed in the courtroom during Bustamante's sentencing hearing, nor would they have been allowed at her murder trial if there had been one.

Most broadcast news reports last week noted that "cameras were not allowed in the courtroom" during the Alyssa Bustamante sentencing hearing in Cole County.

Newspaper readers and television viewers saw the same pictures - all drawn by the News Tribune's Jim Dyke, pressed into service as the "pool" artist for all interested media.

In our modern society, we've come to expect cameras to be inside our courtrooms - often forgetting that the camera is in that courtroom (at least in Missouri) only because some media outlet asked to be there for that specific case - and the judge allowed it.

Missouri's Supreme Court has allowed "cameras in the courtroom" statewide only since the early 1990s.

The court's Rule 16 makes at least one thing perfectly clear: "Broadcasting, televising, recording, and photographing will be permitted in the courtroom under ... conditions."

Being able to take pictures or record the audio of the proceeding is not a right - no matter how much I, or any other reporter, wishes it were so.

Jean Maneke, the Missouri Press Association's Kansas City-based lawyer, is a long-time advocate for cameras in the courtroom and to giving the general public a visual and audio access to proceedings they often can't attend in person.