30 Nov 2000 November 30, 2000
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Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow an audio feed to the media and the public during oral arguments on the presidential election case is a welcome development, the high court’s longstanding opposition to camera coverage of court proceedings is a mistake.
Whatever their skills at interpreting the Constitution, says Ridenour, the Justices are wrong to believe the public is best served by being forbidden access to the arguments made in the critical cases heard by the Court.
Ridneour notes that one Justice, David Souter, told a House of Representatives subcommittee in 1996 that camera coverage of the Supreme Court would occur only over his dead body.
Ridenour suspects that the Justices are not solely serving the public interest. She points out that on April 15, 1997, referring to U.S. Supreme Court resistance to television coverage, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White told a Colorado Springs conference: "I am very pleased to be able to walk around, and very, very seldom am I recognized. It’s very selfish, I know."
Opponents of televised court proceedings usually cite high-minded reasons for opposing television coverage.
An often-cited reason is that lawyers and judges may try to play to the cameras, as in the infamous O.J. Simpson case. But, says Ridenour, most lawyers at this high level already have had a multitude of opportunities to perform for cameras, they are hardly likely to risk their reputations or their cases by appearing to ham it up before the Supreme Court. The risk , she says, is minimal anyway: When 24 states conducted studies on the effect of camera coverage on judges and attorneys, 23 reported no effect – and the 24th state, Virginia, only reported on the views of judges with little experience with televised court proceedings.
Opponents of camera coverage in trial courts also fear that television might intimidate witnesses or violate the privacy of victims, particularly minors. Fair enough, but proponents of camera coverage have never opposed letting judges ban cameras from trials on a case-by-case basis. The Supreme Court is considering constitutional questions, not hearing from witnesses or airing dirty linen.
Ridenour believes the Founding Fathers would have approved of televised court proceedings. According to the journals of the Continental Congress, the Founding Fathers desired public access to courtrooms, advocating that courtrooms be built large enough to hold entire communities and trials be held "before as many people as chuse to attend."
The experience of the states, she says, is instructive. 48 allow camera coverage in at least some court proceedings,5 and studies in 28 states show television coverage of court proceedings has important social and educational benefits. Judges like television coverage more after they’ve had experience with it. A 1991-94 pilot project in the federal courts found that judges who had been neutral tended to become favorable once they’d had firsthand experience with cameras.
Ridenour points to the example of Congress, which permitted camera coverage in 1977, and the Senate, which followed in 1986, noting that no one seriously argues that the country is worse off because of C-SPAN.
The Court is conducting the people’s business, and the public has the right to view its work, concludes Ridenour.
U.S. Representative Nick Smith (R-MI), Chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research, addressed at a press conference on biotechnology sponsored by the National Center For Public Policy Research and Junkscience.com.
Congressman Smith is one of the leading congressional champions of the promising new science of agriculture biotechnology. In April, his subcommittee released an in-depth study, "Seeds of Opportunity," that extols the safety of biotechnology and its potential to feed millions of people in the developing world.
Anti-biotechnology critics such as Greenpeace and other environmental groups are spreading fear and misinformation about biotechnology as part of their anti-technology ideological agenda. Greenpeace as well as other anti-biotechnology groups are clients of the for-profit public relations firm, Fenton Communications. Fenton Communications has a long history of orchestrating scare campaigns on behalf of various left-leaning groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Command Trust Network and the National Environmental Trust. In August, the National Center For Public Policy Research and Junkscience.com released a study, "The Fear Profiteers," detailing Fenton Communications’s history of using unsound science to spread fear among the public for its own financial gain. The study examines Fenton Communications’s central role in the Alar scare in 1989, the silicone implant scare in the early 1990s, the endocrine disrupter "crisis" and the current anti-biotechnology campaign.
"It would be a tragedy if Fenton Communications and its clients are successful in thwarting the development of biotechnology just when it is ready to yield great benefits," says John Carlisle, director of the Environmental Policy Task Force at the National Center For Public Policy Research. "Biotechnology can substantially increase agricultural productivity in the developing world by making it possible to grow crops in areas that cannot currently sustain them. With the help of bioengineered seeds that ‘vaccinate’ crops with their own herbicides and pesticides, crop losses to diseases and insects can be minimized. This also allows farmers to use no-till farming which can reduce erosion of topsoil by as much as 98%."
African leaders have spoken out forcefully on behalf of biotechnology and criticized groups such as some Fenton Communications clients for trying to derail the technology. Kenya’s President, Daniel T. arap Moi, says "the international community is on the verge of the biotechnology revolution which Africa cannot afford to miss." Nigeria’s Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development, Hassan Adamu, says environmentalists "claim to have the environment and public health at the core of their opposition, but scientific evidence disproves their claims… If we take their alarmist warnings to heart, millions of Africans will suffer and possibly die."
Says Carlisle: "Because there is so much as stake, especially for the developing world, it is vital that biotechnology proponents speak out often and forcefully against the likes of profiteers who seek to profit by trashing this dynamic technology. The National Center and Junkscience.com are proud to have a voice of reason in Congressman Nick Smith who has taken the lead in defending biotechnology."
Contact John Carlisle at 202-507-6398 or [email protected].