“Freedom of the press”
The media’s rights of access to the courtroom have had effects on the public, the defendants and the victims. The United States form of government’s is founded on the fundamental law of the Constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights. The Constitution has Amendments which are designed as protection of an individual “rights” against governmental interference with their freedoms. Freedoms that includes, “freedoms of speech”, “freedom of the press”, and the “right of assembly” and “freedom of religion” with the guarantee of a separation of church and state, and many other rights which also obtain their protection from Amendments of Constitution. Can these rights conflict? Can we have a fair trial and a free Press? The press has played a critical role in America’s history, it was instrumental in bring about American’s Revolution. However, not everyone was impressed with the Media’s role, or place. George Washington believed the press should be firmly "managed" and kept in its place. While Jefferson disagreed and declared "nature has given to man no other means [than the press] of sifting out the truth either in religion, law, or politics."(Grunwald, 1979). The desire of the citizen’s need or desire to know and armed with the Constitutional right of “the Freedom of the press”, it was natural that the media would eventually start covering courtroom events and cases. The media’s courtroom mission is to report on courtroom activities and proceedings in an effort to keep the public inform, it also allows the public to see how the judicial system works and allowing the citizens to witness the system in operation for themselves, insuring that all trials are fair and unbiased. But is this the case? Is the media’s coverage fair and unbiased?
Effects of the media on the defendants
Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a defendant cannot "be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Meaning, the defendant cannot be forced to make statements against themselves. Should the defendant choose to remain silent, that silence can not be used against them. Under the Sixth Amendment the defendants has the right to be confronted by the witnesses against them and the right to cross-examine those witnesses. Other rights that the accused enjoys is the right to have a public jury trial, and to have representation by an attorney, it also protect against being tried twice for the same offense ("double jeopardy"). Everyone in the United States is entitled to a fair trial by jury, a jury of one’s peers; the defendant remains innocent until proven guilty. It is important that suspected criminal receives a fair trial and that they not become victims of unfair reporting, guilty or innocent as seen thought the lens of a camera, defeat or victory. Therefore, it is important that not only the trial be fair and unbiased, it is equally important that any reporting of courtroom activities by the media be held to the same fair and unbiased standards. But is that the case? In 1954, in Bay Village, Ohio Dr. Sam Sheppard was on trial for the brutal murder of his wife. A Cleveland newspaper had a huge interest in the Sheppard case long before it had even gotten stated. Before the trial had begun the Cleveland area newspapers printed headlines and editorials that were obvious bias toward Dr. Sheppard, printing headlines like "Somebody Is Getting Away with Murder" and "Why Isn't Sam Sheppard in Jail?” The newspaper went to the extent of listing all 64 names, addresses and telephone for potential jurors which the court had to choose from. A federal judge blasted the Cleveland newspapers for "trying" Sam Sheppard in the media, making reference to it as "a mockery of justice" .Dr. Sheppard was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1954. In 1964 Sam Sheppard was released on an appeal, after spending almost 10 years in prison. The Sam Sheppard case is to this day still a debatable...
References: Adam, S. (n/d). The Sam Sheppard Trial. Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Retrieved September 8, 2008, from http://www.providence.edu/polisci/students/sheppard_trial/media.htm
Carter, C. A. (1981). Media in the Courts. National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=77571.
Grunwald, H. (1979, July 16). The Press, the Courts and the Country. Time Magazine. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920536-2,00.html
Howard, H. (n/d). The Courts and Media Coverage. Lectric Law Library. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from
Rosen, R. E. (1990). Liberal Battle Zones and the Study of Law and the Media. Law and Human Behavior, 14.(5), 511-521.Retrieved August 25, 2008, from
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