Cameras in the Courtroom

Historically, access to courtrooms and adjacent areas to broadcast, televise, record and photograph court proceedings was tenuous, particularly after the media coverage of the Sam Shepard trial in the 1950s caused many courts to close their doors to the media. Then, on October 29, 1991, the Supreme Court of Missouri established a task force to determine whether cameras should be allowed in the courtroom. After considering the issue, the task force recommended that the Supreme Court adopt a rule authorizing broadcasting, televising, recording and taking photographs in Missouri courtrooms on an experimental basis and under controlled conditions. This rule derived from the Court's constitutional authority to administer the judicial system within Missouri.

In September 1992, the Supreme Court promulgated what is now known as Court Operating Rule 16 to allow broadcasting, televising, recording and still photography in eleven judicial circuits and in all appellate courts in Missouri. After monitoring and evaluating coverage during the experimental period, the task force recommended that the rule be expanded to include all courts. In October 1994, the Supreme Court adopted Court Operating Rule 16 to allow cameras in all Missouri courtrooms, effective July 1, 1995, within certain guidelines addressing issues such as advance notice by the media, placement of cameras in the courtroom, and restrictions on camera or audio equipment.

Although the task force recognized that camera access to Missouri courtrooms is not a constitutional right, the spirit of the rule is that cameras generally be allowed in the courtroom as a means of making the judicial process more accessible to all citizens. It therefore is important for media coordinators and media representatives to help ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted in a dignified manner to preserve the ends of justice. The task force noted that ultimately, the success of the rule depends on the cooperative efforts of media representatives, media coordinators and the state's courts. It therefore is incumbent on media coordinators to work with media representatives and the courts to ensure that the cameras in the courtroom program is conducted fairly and in accordance with the rule.

To aid the understanding of how the cameras in the courtroom rule operates in practice, the Supreme Court's communications counsel has developed a cameras in the courtroom guide. The guidelines are not legal opinions and do not constitute authority for any conduct not specifically addressed by Court Operating Rule 16.