Editorial: Kobe Bryant Case Points to Need for Cameras in Court

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

With the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case heating up this month in the tiny Colorado town of Eagle, attention is again focused on how the men and women of TV news go about their business. And in many cases the picture that emerges is far from flattering, as it has been in high-profile legal cases from O.J. Simpson to JonBenet Ramsey to Laci Peterson.
In the run-up to Mr. Bryant’s 10-minute appearance in court last week, the hordes of journalists who had descended on Eagle scrambled to fill airtime with something. What they came up with included some useful news, but it also was filled with misinformation and innuendo that in many cases was irresponsible, potentially tainting the jury pool and impeding justice. A rumor that a hotel bellman saw the alleged victim with a red face after the encounter was just one example of the speculation that made up much of the reporting. The disclosure of the identity of Mr. Bryant’s accuser was another unfortunate result of the widespread media attention. The pack of reporters camping out at the victim’s home, and talking to anyone in the small town with anything to say, whether it was credible or not, was also unfortunate.
But a counterpoint to the speculation could be found in the courtroom, where a judge wisely ruled last week that he would allow the unflinching eye of the television camera to provide whoever might be interested with the real story of what was going on in the case. Last week, that amounted to a relatively uneventful court appearance by Mr. Bryant in which he waived the formal reading of the charge against him and his preliminary hearing was set for Oct. 9. As the case goes forward, the presence of the camera will become much more important.
The responsible use of the courtroom camera is the best antidote to the media circus that has angered townsfolk in the Kobe Bryant case and that reflects badly on the media in general. Clearly, the public is better served by the single camera inside the courtroom than it is by the hundreds of cameras outside. It is well known that opening the machinations of government and the courts to public scrutiny changes the way public officials and judges act, helping to ensure that they carry out their duties in a responsible manner.
Most of the country is in step with the principle that the public has a right to know what goes on in court. New York, where Court TV has been fighting a losing battle to place its cameras in the courtroom, is one exception. At least 40 states permit cameras, but the fight continues on various fronts. We applaud and support the efforts of Court TV in New York and wherever else the issue should surface.
And as the Kobe Bryant case plays out in Eagle in the months ahead, we will watch with interest-our attention focused primarily on the real story playing out in the courtroom, not on the messy media frenzy outside.