THE LEGISLATURE appears ready to act on a bill extending for two years the experiment permitting news cameras and microphones in New York State's trial courts.
Unfortunately, the measure as it stands would impose several new restrictions on the program. There is no demonstrated need for these changes and the legislation would be better without them.
The News long had concerns about the wisdom of televising trials. But conditions written into the law authorizing the test period, and the actual experience of the past 18 months, satisfy us that the experiment has been a success.
The program has been closely monitored and studied by state judicial authorities. Earlier this year, former Chief Administrative Judge Albert Rosenblatt formally recommended that the cameras be allowed to stay. His report made it clear that "audio-visual coverage does not adversely affect judicial proceedings."
Despite that finding, the pending legislation has been hedged in with new and questionable conditions.
For example, it would give attorneys power to veto camera coverage of arraignments and suppression hearings. This could rule out such coverage in important prelimi nary proceedings. If there is a good reason for keeping cameras out of a particular proceeding, the decision should be left to the presiding judge.
Another dubious new provision would require consent from both parties if television wanted to start covering a trial after it had begun. This ignores the possibility that the significance of the trial might become apparent only after it started.
Also of concern is a clause that would force the news media to submit tapes and other end products at the request of the chief court administrator. Tapes have been submitted voluntarily during the past 18 months for evaluation of the program, and there is no reason why this voluntary approach should not be continued. Even the court administrator opposes forcing the news media to turn over this material, a requirement that would impinge on First Amendment guarantees.
Clearly, the Legislature should ease these restrictions. However, some supporters of cameras in the courtrooms say the pending bill is about the best they can get, and even this compromise measure is not certain of passage in the State Senate. Based on the favorable results of the past 18 months, the Legislature will be remiss if it does not allow cameras to stay.