Fans of courtroom television who watched live as Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder in her 2-year-old daughter's death will be disappointed next week if they expect to see former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky face child sex abuse charges in a Bellefonte district court.
Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania bars television and radio broadcasts from its courtrooms. And it isn't about to bend the rules for Sandusky's preliminary hearing on Tuesday -- despite national and international interest in the scandal that cost coaching legend Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier their jobs.
"I would categorize Pennsylvania among the lower tier of states in terms of court access," said Kathleen Kirby, counsel to the national Radio, Television and Digital News Association.
Although many states restrict shots that identify witnesses or victims, Kirby said some form of camera coverage is permitted in courtrooms in 47 states.
The Sandusky case exploded onto the national media stage last month. A state grand jury alleged the retired coach abused eight boys -- some in university facilities -- over a 15-year period. Two top Penn State officials were charged with felony counts of failing to report allegations of abuse to authorities.
Sandusky, 67, and Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, the former Penn State officials charged in the case, all maintain their innocence.
Richard Wycoff, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, said some out-of-state news organizations may be shocked when they arrive for Sandusky's hearing. "Many news reporters coming from Washington and New York expect to have video in the courtroom," he said.
Not only are cameras barred from the courtroom where Sandusky's hearing will be held, but Senior Judge John Cleland issued an order Tuesday afternoon explicitly barring photography, videography or recording devices anywhere in the courthouse or an annex building about a mile away where closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings will be provided to handle the expected courtroom overflow. The order prohibits reporters from using cell phones to transmit reports from the courtroom and bars the media from conducting interviews inside the courtroom or the courthouse.
Court officials in Centre County, who have been deluged with inquiries from the press and the public, are conducting a lottery to award tickets for 100 seats set aside for the public at the courtroom hearing. State court officials worked with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and others to coordinate credentialing for the media horde that is expected.
"It would be great for the Sandusky hearing to have a camera in the back of the room that is unobtrusive, so people could watch it just like the 100 people from the public who will get to come to court," Wycoff said.
Citing unnamed sources, ABC News yesterday reported that all of Sandusky's alleged victims in the grand jury's criminal charges will testify at his preliminary hearing. Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, did not return calls for comment. A spokesman for state Attorney General Linda Kelly declined to comment beyond saying that prosecutors intend to provide sufficient evidence to have the case held for trial.
Stacy Scholder, an Emmy Award-winning television news producer who is a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, said barring cameras from live broadcast of court proceedings penalizes the public and creates an atmosphere for sensationalized coverage.
"If we are allowed to show what is actually happening day by day, I think we are providing people the opportunity to see and hear important cases that not only focus on serious real-life issues, but may also shed a new light on their own lives," she said.
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