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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Televising the courts must be “more than a media gimmick”

The Chartered Institute of Journalists welcomes television coverage of criminal sentencing in England & Wales but warns it will be “just a media gimmick” unless something is done to halt the disastrous decline of courtroom reporting and coverage.

Television cameras are set to be allowed into sentencing hearings at English and Welsh Crown Courts for the first time in a pilot scheme following the live coverage of proceedings at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

The project is being funded by the BBC, Sky, ITN and the Press Association at no cost to the public purse.

Professor Tim Crook, Chairman of the Institute’s Professional Practices Board, said: “This is progress, but the bigger issue is the failure of the media to maintain proper day-to-day coverage of the legal system at all levels.

Collapse

“Over the last 20 years there has been a dangerous collapse in commissioning and retaining court reporting journalists and resources in local, regional and national media. By my calculation, in the last thirty years nine tenths of court reporting has been liquidated.”

Professor Crook was the UK’s first specialist broadcast legal affairs correspondent, working for IRN/LBC during the 1980s and ’90s.

He added: “Although the local and regional press has faced enormous financial challenges in that time, some have responded with skill and enterprise to maintain readership. Too many haven’t. They have abandoned news gathering despite clear evidence that people want news. This is where the industry has failed to support democracy.

“In November I visited the Lord Chief Justice’s court in the Strand and observed several significant hearings that should have been reported by the national media, but were not. The failure to staff these important events and report them to the public means that a vital part of our constitution and the operation of justice will remain in the dark.

“This cannot be good for democracy.”