TV Broadcast Permitted in Public Interest

Not all accused are amused when they are on TV before their trial hearing starts. But when is it justified to broadcast a person’s identity who is being accused of a crime? This article will reflect when as well as who may be shown on TV before, during, and after a hearing as reporting on the BVerfG 's decision of December 19, 2007 (re 1 BvR 620/07).


On March 19, 2007, a trial, against 18 soldier trainers were accused of battering recruits in the town of Coesfeld in North Rhine Westphalia, was to commence. In preparation for the hearing the presiding judge of the criminal division ordered a closed session and so prevented camera and TV teams from entering the court-room 15 minutes prior to and 10 minutes after the hearing. In as far as the accused did not wish their faces to be broadcasted, they were to be blurred.

The public TV station, ZDF, filed a complaint to the Bundesverfassungsgericht per urgent application to permit broadcasting otherwise its constitutional freedom of broadcasting might be infringed. The TV station wanted to broadcast all participants of trial, the professional and lay judges, district attorney, and especially the accused.

The Federal Constitutional Court determined, with a quota of 6 : 1 votes, this right was infringed by the penal court. Public control of court proceedings is maintained by the attendance of the media during hearings. It is also in the interest of justice to be publicly visible to show how law and order are practiced. In conformity with the constitution and to ensure an orderly functioning hearing, picture and sound transmission is generally prohibited. Public control is guaranteed by attendance in courtroom. Beyond that, showing the court and persons interacting therein can serve public interest in information and forward a practical “feeling” of court proceedings. Accordingly, the courtroom is open for broadcasting before and after hearings as well as during recesses.

The presiding judge has full discretion in determining the limits of broadcasting from court. This discretion is to be employed in such manner that opposing interests will only reasonably hinder the broadcasting when they exceptionally weigh more than the public interest. Which arguments have weight for discretion? Discretion is governed by the

  • seriousness of the accused crime,
    (petty theft vs. murder),

  • general public interest in the case,
    (such as in the case, where “everybody” wants to know)
  • public safety and order
    (Imagine a modern “Jack the Ripper” bragging about his slaying…)
  • youth of the accused,
    (trial of 14 year-old mother prosecuted for murdering her child)
  • his chances for resocialization,
    (first time rapers)

All such arguments can prevent publicity of the hearing when these exceptional reasons prevail. In addition, the interest of judges, attorneys, witnesses witness might demand closing the session. This will typically be the reason when their life and health might be endangered. As a guiding principle, the court must generally allow broadcasting.


Should you be in such touchy situation, instruct your attorney that he may apply for a closed session (“unter Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit”). Keep in mind, when the session is about to begin, in recess, or terminated, reporters might want to talk to you.

Published on the old CMS: 2008/2/25
Read on the old CMS till November 2008: 1,411 reads

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