BOOK REVIEW Courting Publicity: Twitter and Television Cameras in Court
Reviewed by: Amber Melville-Brown
Author: Paul Lambert
Publisher: Bloomsbury Professional
ISBN: 978 1 84766 900 1
Hot on the heels of the super-injunction spring of 2011, Courting Publicity: Twitter and Television Cameras in Court seeks to inform the debate on what role social media and television reporting should play within the judicial system. Aimed at legal professionals, policymakers and members of the media this accessible and well-considered book highlights the urgent need for empirical research into the effect of the increasing use of social media, and of court television reporting.
The UK courts system is the focus of Courting Publicity but the US, where TV court reporting is more common, is also considered in some detail. Lambert argues that the democratisation of court reporting - either through social media or via television coverage - opens up opportunities. But if managed incorrectly, he says, it could undermine the courts’ core function: the administration of justice.
As the title suggests, Twitter features heavily. No surprise, considering the phenomenal impact that the social media website has had on the legal system (as well as societies around the world). Lambert does not restrict his musings to the headline tale of Giggs-gate but considers the wide range of consequences that increasing use of social media may have on the legal system. Discussion covers both the difficulties posed by Twitter - from the near impossibility of accurately reporting complex points of law in 140 characters to questions surrounding enforceability of court orders - and the ways in which the courts may benefit from the invention; the courts in England and Wales have, for example he explains, utilised tweets both for evidential purposes and as a method of serving court orders.
Once the topic of social media has been thoroughly put through its paces, Lambert deliberates over the next step on the road of accessibility and transparency - the advisability of television reporting in courts. He questions whether filming courtroom proceedings would have the desired educational and informative effect or whether, as commentators have argued, the public’s interest is only likely to be sparked by cases with salacious or horrific content. In the US, court TV shows are often scheduled to run concurrently with daytime soaps suggesting real - and live - drama is a popular alternative to fiction - but leading to the potentially worrying question whether the public can distinguish between the two.
Lambert also notes that it is impossible to film objectively and that editing decisions may cause a defendant to appear guilty or a witness to seem unreliable, raising the question as to whether such programming will give the public a balanced view of the justice system. (By contrast, one senior media lawyer recently pointed out to me that reporting through Twitter, with tweets every couple of minutes on all aspects of the case, in fact results in objective and non-selective reporting.)
Lambert cautions that court proceedings may be hampered should lawyers and judges act up to the camera or witnesses be more reluctant to give evidence or cameras and crews prove distracting; he calls for ‘eye-tracking’ research to be carried out to assess this particular risk. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, said Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis. Certainly, the overwhelming trend - be that in governance, business or the judiciary - is for increased public access and transparency and moves towards openness look likely to affect us all.
You do not have to be a media lawyer to find interest in this book and as a lecturer and solicitor specialising in internet, IT and intellectual property law, Lambert is well-placed to guide any of us through the process.
Amber Melville-Brown, partner and head of Media & Reputation Management, Withers LLP