TV, Courts And Sensationalism

One of the biggest arguments about television almost since its inception is it should be a teaching tool and not just for entertainment, information brokage and advertising products.

One issue that stood out even back then was whether lawyers should be allowed to advertise on television.

Eventually, in 1972 after years of arguments over “the right to free speech,” the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers could advertise their services on television. State bar associations gradually allowed their members to advertise on TV.

Another issue that surfaced was whether TV cameras should be allowed in the courtrooms.

The thrust of the argument was that only the sensational would be deemed worthy of broadcast, and the lesser cases would not be subjected to the glare of television coverage, except on the nightly news once in a while.

It’s interesting that the top-rated show on daytime television today is the drama in family court. TV’s Judge Judy, the ratings leader, just bought a $40 million mansion in Beverly Hills. Simply put, viewers love Judge Judy.

Lawyers have since received permission to buy time on prime time television to sell their services, from class-action suits against harmful products to special services they provide to victims of personal injury. I’m not against lawyers advertising, because they do provide much valuable assistance to those injured, so when people need a personal injury lawyer they know exactly where to go because of the advertising, and in today’s day and digital age, that is very important.

What I question is the wall-to-wall coverage of sensational criminal cases. They don’t educate the viewers because they have a political agenda. The idea obviously is to stir up public interest and emotion to increase view-ership.

The final injustice to the judicial system is when reporters and talk show hosts attempt to interview jurors after a verdict has been reached in a case. We have the best legal system in the world, and allowing media to cross-exam jurors about their perspective does, in my humble opinion, nothing to enhance the legal system.

Another problem is that something happens to people when they realize they’re on television and hundreds of thousands of viewers are hanging on their every word. They become actors and no longer innocent jurors.

If we have learned anything about televised criminal trials, it’s that an expensive attorney can, in many cases, get the accused defendant acquitted.

Still, it’s the law of the land and we have to live with it, whether you like it or not.