Judge's decision to allow 'live' courtroom broadcast unprecedented in Czech Republic

30-10-2003

In the U.S. it may be fairly standard procedure to allow live broadcasts in the courtroom -the most famous example being the O.J. Simpson case in 1995. The argument, say many: that live broadcasts broaden the public knowledge of court proceedings while satisfying the public's right to know. If anything the experience in Europe has been one of contrast, especially in the Czech Republic where a live broadcast had not been allowed in a courtroom before. But, this Thursday that appeared to be about to change, in an appeal by Karel Srba, a former foreign ministry official, sentenced to eight years in prison for plotting to kill a journalist.

Karel Srba, photo: CTKKarel Srba, photo: CTK The decision to allow a live broadcast in the case of Karel Srba provoked wide debate from the outset. On the one hand, some legal officials explained they felt the broadcast would have a positive effect on a country known for its largely sceptical public, on the other, high-profile detractors worried the broadcast would set a dangerous precedent, limiting Mr Srba's chances of a fair trial. Detractors including Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Both expressed worries the case would be politicised, that undue pressure would be put on the court. President Klaus even went so far as to compare the idea to the communist show trials of the 1950s. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Spidla expressed a somewhat lesser degree of distaste.

"There exists a genre known as reality TV or Big Brother - and this is something similar."

Despite detractor's worries the hearing was set to go ahead, beginning live this Thursday on public broadcaster Czech TV. But, the broadcast did not continue for long after Mr Srba's fellow accused expressed the worry they would not be given a fair appeal if the cameras broadcast live. Following a short recess, the court panel ruled in their favour, saying Czech TV could tape proceedings for later broadcast, airing only the verdicts live. The interests of the accused, including Mr Srba - who himself didn't object to the cameras - were ultimately given precedence.

Earlier this week high court judge Jiri Lnenicka expressed surprise that his decision to allow immediate broadcasts from the courtroom had provoked so much debate. Even now that debate seems set to continue. Observers on both sides will no doubt continue to question how the public interest can be best served without infringing on the rights of the accused. Ultimately, judges will have to decide on the specifics in individual cases, whether or not to 'go live'.

30-10-2003