The head of Sky News has used the trials of parliamentarians accused of dishonesty over their expenses to renew his plea for cameras to be allowed into courtrooms. John Ryley said televising proceedings would help tackle ‘growing public dissatisfaction with the judicial process’.
Really? The precedents are not encouraging – look at the US. And one wanders to what extent Ryley believes that allowing cameras into the Commons has restored public faith in parliament. Prime minister’s questions in particular is reduced to an exchange with all the gravitas of a Punch & Judy show, precisely because its participants are concerned with producing empty soundbites for consumption by short-attention-span channels like Sky News.
We might also paraphrase the Mandy Rice-Davies defence here: ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’ It’s easy to see why commodifying the courtroom appeals to television executives. Those grisly exercises in humiliation and embarrassment that are categorised as ‘reality television’ demonstrate that the public has a ravenous appetite for voyeuristic television. However, such programmes are peopled by volunteers and their ends are meretricious (if lucrative). The machinery of justice is the opposite of meretricious and its most important participants are not volunteers.
If people are interested in the court process they can always sit in the public gallery and observe it first hand. Justice and showbiz must never be joined.