Supreme Court will still consider YouTube for Prop 8 trial
CNN News onlineThere's no way of doing this that has no risk -- it's a question of which risk you want to take for which benefits. --Media studies professor Paul Levinson
CNN NewsThe Supreme Court's stay allows distribution only to other rooms in the San Francisco courthouse. In blog posts last week for the conservative National Review Online, Ed Whelan, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote that the videos threaten to turn the hearings into a circus. "Posting on YouTube would, of course, in turn make it easy for anyone to splice and dice the video, post highlights, overlay the video with text or special effects, and make alterations," he wrote. "Posting on YouTube, in other words, creates the possibility that any particular excerpt of any witness' testimony or any counsel's statement could 'go viral.' "
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Although a Supreme Court ruling yesterday overturned a California high justice's ruling that the Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco could be shown in delayed time on You Tube, a final ruling will not be issued until Wednesday, press say.
The power of social media networks such as You Tube is under hot debate, with the attendant risks that the proceedings of the Proposition 8 trial, if allowed on You Tube, could be altered and transformed to make political points.
Barack Obama's speech on race was one YouTubed event which "went viral".
The Supreme Court has issued a stay which allows only for proceedings to be streamed to other rooms and areas within the California high court.
Backers of Proposition 8 have said they fear retaliation by gay advocacy groups if their words will be spliced and misrepresented on You Tube.
But gay marriage proponents insist that this is an historic trial, with far-reaching national implications about states' rights and the US Constitution, and that it is important that the public be made aware of all of the arguments within the proceedings.
Although there is a risk of highlighting, splicing, and misrepresentation, these advocates believe the risk, historically and politically, is well worth taking.
Gay advocates insist that the more their arguments are heard, the better they fare with the public, and this, they insist, is what their opponents are really fearing from the You Tube delayed streaming of the trial proceedings.
As a California court prepares to wade once again into the thorny issue of same-sex marriage, a side debate has developed over the role of online media in the courts.
The federal judge who is hearing appeals of California's Proposition 8 this week ruled that the proceedings could be shown -- albeit in delayed fashion -- on YouTube.
With the U.S. Supreme Court considering the legality of the plan, backers say the videos would give the world a chance to hear and see unfiltered arguments in a way they never could before.
Opponents, meanwhile, say the big stage of the world's most popular video sharing site would open up participants in the case to harassment and make footage from the case easy to edit and distort.
It's a new sort of debate, swirling around how new technology intersects with the nation's judicial system.
But Paul Levinson, a professor of media studies at Fordham University, calls it "a traditional and very deep-rooted historical dilemma."
"On the one hand, when you put up the gate and allow for the maximum information, that's very good, but it also comes with the risk that some of the information will be falsified and distorted," saidLevinson, whose 2009 book "New New Media" examines the effect of online media on culture.
"There's no way of doing this that has no risk. It's a question of which risk you want to take for which benefits."
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Opponents said witness testimony could be affected if cameras were present. It is rare for a federal trial to be televised.[. . . ]
In blog posts last week for the conservative National Review Online, Ed Whelan, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote that the videos threaten to turn the hearings into a circus.
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He also argued the public nature of testimony and arguments "ensure that the potential for abuse and harassment of witnesses and other trial participants is thousands, if not millions, of times greater than an ordinary unrecorded trial would entail."
Jon Davidson, legal director of the pro-gay rights Lambda Legal, disagreed, saying opponents of same-sex marriage in California want to keep the hearings as quiet as possible to avoid public debate on the legal merits of the case.
"One of the things we find on the marriage issue, but really on all issues in response to gay rights, is that the more discussion there is -- the more conversation, the more people learn -- the more likely it is that gay people are going to do well," Davidson said.
Davidson said posting the trial on YouTube wouldn't increase the potential for witnesses to be harassed, saying that anyone can read news reports after the fact to find out who spoke and what they said.
Besides, any effort to block new-media coverage of the hearings is already too late, Davidson said. He said people in the courtroom for opening arguments Monday were posting live updates to Twitter throughout.
The issue once again places YouTube at the heart of political discourse.
During the 2008 presidential election, YouTube partnered with CNN on a pair of debates, both streaming the debates live and asking users to submit video questions that were played during the debates.
The White House and Congress both have YouTube channels, police post surveillance video of crimes and state, local and federal officials routinely use the site to post information to their constituents.
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. . . The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue by Wednesday.