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The Effects of Televising Trials: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs?

Updated: Mar 15

During the Summer of 2022, social media was bombarded with updates, clips and fan-made memes about the defamation lawsuit between actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. In a now-infamous op-ed, Heard implied that Depp had physically and emotionally abused her throughout their 15-month marriage.

As a result, Depp became labeled as a “wife beater,” and these allegations subsequently cost the actor various roles, including that of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean'' franchise. Subsequently, the Depp v. Heard defamation trial officially began. With the approval of Judge Penny Azacarate, the proceedings were broadcast in real-time, drawing in millions of viewers daily.

As the plaintiffs are required to meet the burden of proof, Depp and his legal team had a week to argue their case and successfully gain public support before Heard’s side was able to do so; within days, the court of public opinion ruled in favor of Depp, and fan-made content and comments permeated all corners of the internet. This led many to question whether it is possible for jurors to not be influenced by all the biased posts and clips they see on social media.


Those in favor of televising trials often cite “education” and “truth,” both of which promote the fairness of a trial, as their reasons the practice is beneficial. They argue that watching the complex legal system play out on television can make the public more familiar with the legal process and teach them about its intricacies. Additionally, those in favor believe that the media and the public serve as the “checking” power to the system, pressuring involved parties to adhere to policies and be honest because publicizing statements makes identifying lies and inconsistencies easier.

Critics, on the other hand, point out past cases where the media played a vital role in wrongfully influencing the public to decide on someone’s guilt before all relevant facts were presented or as a result of selective and biased reporting from companies who push out unverified narratives to draw attention and boost traffic on their websites. All of these reasons support the review of the practice and all its intended, or unintended, consequences.


Davis, Norman. “Television in Our Courts - The Proven Advantages, the Unproven Dangers.” Judicature, vol. 64, no. 2, Aug. 1980, pp. 85–92. 

Gerson, Jennifer. “Johnny Depp Trial Unlocks New Way for Abusers to Exert Power over Survivors, Experts Worry.” The 19th News, 23 May 2022,  

Quick, Lori. “Juror Misconduct: Recognizing It and Raising It on Appeal - SDAP.” Sixth District Appellate Program, Sixth District Appellate Program,

Resnik, Judith. “The Functions of Publicity and Privatization in Courts and their Replacements (from Jeremy Bentham to #MeToo and Google Spain)”. Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 659, October 22, 2018, pp. 1-25. 

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