Should Donald Trump's criminal trials be televised?

Washington DC - Calls are growing for Donald Trump's criminal trials to be broadcast live, as the US grapples with the prospect of seeing a former – and possibly future – president in the dock.

EX-President Donald Trump's criminal trials should be televised, according to some Democratic congresspeople.
EX-President Donald Trump's criminal trials should be televised, according to some Democratic congresspeople.  © REUTERS

Lawyers and politicians are lining up to urge that cameras be allowed inside the courtroom, particularly when the one-time reality TV star faces a jury on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

"Given the historic nature of the charges brought forth in these cases, it is hard to imagine a more powerful circumstance for televised proceedings," read a letter signed Thursday by California Representative Adam Schiff and dozens of his Democratic colleagues.

"If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of witnesses."

New Yorkers sound off ahead of Donald Trump criminal trial
Donald Trump New Yorkers sound off ahead of Donald Trump criminal trial

Trump has now been charged in three separate criminal cases: lying about hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, mishandling secret documents, and trying to subvert an election.

An indictment looms in a fourth case, related to a phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump pressured him to "find" the 11,780 votes that would reverse his defeat to Joe Biden in the state.

People "have a right to see" Trump trials

A third of all voters polled by The New York Times and Sienna College thought Trump had done nothing wrong.
A third of all voters polled by The New York Times and Sienna College thought Trump had done nothing wrong.  © REUTERS

Despite extensive and detailed media coverage of Trump's alleged crimes, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters – 74% – and a third of all voters believe he has done no wrong, according to a poll by The New York Times and Sienna College.

While some state-level proceedings have been shown on TV – OJ Simpson's nation-stopping murder trial was a ratings blockbuster – federal trials cannot be photographed or broadcast, courtesy of rules dating to 1946.

Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University, argued in the Washington Post that it was time to update this "antiquated" edict.

Former Trump aide says Melania has her husband "quite worried" over hush money trial
Melania Trump Former Trump aide says Melania has her husband "quite worried" over hush money trial

"We live in a digital age, where people think visually and are accustomed to seeing things with their own eyes," he wrote.

The decision on whether to allow cameras into the courtroom will ultimately rest with the Judicial Conference – the policymaking body of the federal court system, which is run by the nation's chief justice, John Roberts.

Alternatively, Congress could change the law.

Katyal, who was a prosecutor in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white Minnesota police officer who killed George Floyd, said that the broadcasting of those proceedings had helped a highly divided public to accept the guilty verdict when it came.

The same would be true of the Trump trial, Katyal maintained.

"This criminal trial is being conducted in the name of the people of the United States. It is our tax dollars at work," he wrote.

"We have a right to see it. And we have the right to ensure that rumormongers and conspiracy theorists don’t control the narrative."

The risks of more Trump exposure

The problem with putting it all on the small screen, said Christina Bellantoni, an expert in media and political journalism at the University of Southern California, is Trump's formidable ability to dominate the discourse and bend the narrative.

"My prediction... would be that his public opinion ratings would go up, no matter what evidence is presented," she told AFP.

The risk is that a trial about an alleged attempt to overthrow democracy becomes little more than an entertainment, where no one's mind is changed.

"I think people aren't on the fence about this individual in either direction," she said.

"People will hate-watch it, people will rally and root for him. And there's not gonna be anybody that's like, 'Gee, I think I'll watch this and see how justice plays out.'"

Cover photo: REUTERS

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