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Courting an Audience

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David Cameron and Kenneth Clark both announced that they favour television cameras in court to broadcast (certain) UK sentencing decisions. The policy aims appear to be to enhance education, information and public understanding. But what are the out-of-court audience effects? Do we know?

There has been apparently no consistent considered research into the audience for courtroom broadcasting generally or for specific trials e.g. high profile trials. It is important that we understand why the audience watch a television courtroom broadcasting cases. We should know what the audience learns in relation to the instant case being televised. We do not know what the audience learns in relation to court issues and procedures generally. It is all well and good to say it will educate, but what specifically are we seeking to educate about? Is it the details of a case, the sentence or the court process? Is the stated aim achieved? These issues should concern us.

In the UK it appears unrealistic to suggest there will be a television courtroom broadcasting channel equivalent to TruTV (previously CourtTV) in the US. However, we should be asking what factors and what types of cases the BBC, SKY and other broadcasters would be interested in broadcasting. These are issues which would influence the type(s) and form(s) of television courtroom broadcasting in the UK.

At what stage does it become worthwhile for a broadcaster to engage in television courtroom broadcasting? What criteria of selection will they use for television courtroom broadcasting?
It is oversimplistic to assert that all television courtroom broadcasts will educate, or that all television courtroom broadcasting is the same. Equally, it is oversimplistic to suggest that all audiences will be equally receptive in their viewing and understanding of television courtroom broadcasting (or indeed television courtroom broadcasting forms).

The media has many audiences, not just one. So it is oversimplistic to assume or suggest that courtroom broadcasting will, for example, educate the audience. Each medium of communication demands different adaptation and attention on the part of the audience. Different television courtroom broadcasting forms could also demand differing adaptation and attention levels.

What courtroom broadcasting is watched, why and what are the effects? We should dedicate meaningful research to the audience and audience attention.

It is particularly important to appreciate that there is not just one unique audience, and that different television courtroom broadcasting audiences exist. Audience segments are recognised in many areas of media studies but appear neglected in research of the effects of courtroom broadcasting audience effects.

Television courtroom broadcasting content footage needs to be analysed so that we can begin to understand what message of courtroom broadcasting is received with viewers and what, if anything, they learn. Unless we start analysing television courtroom broadcasting we are left with presumption and mere unvalidated opinion.

What does a person seek out to watch and listen to? Why, for example, does a person (or audience) seek out courtroom broadcasting or particular television courtroom broadcasting content? Does the audience for push television courtroom broadcasting (eg TruTV) differ from pull television courtroom broadcasting (eg internet broadcasting)?

We need to consider,
• what we are communicating, or what is television courtroom broadcasting communicating?
• how we are communicating, or how is television courtroom broadcasting communicating? and
• why we are communicating, or why is television courtroom broadcasting communicating?

It would seem pointless to suggest, for example, courtroom broadcasting is, or will be educational, without asking what is being communicated, how is it being communicated and why is it being communicated. It is wrong to assume, and suggest, that all forms of courtroom broadcasting will educate, or that all forms of television courtroom broadcasting communicate similarly.

How does mass media or popular forms of television courtroom broadcasting shape our views and also how do they reinforce existing views or understandings we may have on the case and or justice?

We cannot expect to know anything about television courtroom broadcasting communications and messages without seeking to examine these.

There are many alternative ways of broadcasting. The style of and form of television courtroom broadcasting therefore needs to be scrutinised.

Another difficulty is that not everyone is the same. There are different audiences for media content, and even different audiences of the same programme. Audience members may take different or varied meanings from a programme. The audience use of television courtroom broadcasting content is not yet addressed.

There exists a large amount of research in relation to the media audience. Some of this research has investigated media consumption in specific social contexts. This research might also be extended to cover courtroom broadcasts. Why do people tune in? Why also do they tune into particular courtroom broadcasts as opposed to others? These answers would help us to understand how much of actual court proceedings and practice the audience actually learn. Sustained research would be welcome. We need to investigate this to see, for example, what TCB educates or educates best. Which forms of TCB does the public prefer and why?

Whether one is in favour of or against courtroom broadcasting, the research of the effects on the audience is relevant. Unfortunately, more research is needed. It is hoped that the UK proposals once announced, will encompass effects research too.

These issues are expanded further in Courting Publicity: Twitter and Television Cameras in Court.