By Royal F. Oakes*

One of the time-honored excuses for continuing to exclude broadcast cameras from federal courtrooms is the notion that if proceedings are televised, that will change the behavior of lawyers.  The assumption about human nature underlying this notion is correct.  People behave differently when others are watching.  That reality is what inspires the saying, “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.”

Thus, the fact that conduct is influenced by the presence of others is actually an argument for cameras, because rare exceptions notwithstanding, people generally behave better when they have an audience. The larger your audience, the more likely you are to do the right thing.

Concern over possibly inappropriate behavior is not a reason to keep 99.99 percent of Americans from seeing for themselves what goes on inside a federal courtroom.  The fact people are flawed, and the fact those flaws more regularly manifest themselves when there are no witnesses to one’s imperfections, hardly justifies the exclusion of courtroom cameras. 

 *Royal F. Oakes is a Los Angeles lawyer and general counsel to the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.