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Cameras in courts could be tested

Broadcast and cable journalists are at least one step closer to a big victory.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Friday approved a bill that would allow for a test
of cameras in federal courts.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act would allow federal judges (trial and
appellate) to allow cameras in their courts.

It would also direct the Judicial Conference, which oversees the courts, to
draft guidelines for that media coverage.

The test would sunset in three years.

All 50 states now currently allow some form of electronic-media coverage of
trials, while federal trials remain closed, with the Judicial Conference still
opposed to cameras, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Va.), one of the
bill's backers.

A new twist on the argument for cameras is the current Freedom of Information
climate in the ongoing war on terrorism.

"Despite the dramatic shift toward excessive secrecy demonstrated by the
current administration, the Freedom of Information Act remains a cornershote of
democracy," Leahy said. "It establishes the right of Americans to know what
their government is doing -- or not doing ... This legislation springs from one
of our most essential principles: A democracy works best when the people have
all of the information that the security of the Nation permits."

Similar bills were introduced in 1999 and 2001.

According to the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which has been
pushing to open courts to cameras, Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and William
Delahunt (D-Mass.) are working on getting a similar bill through the House
Judiciary Committee.