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German Top Court Keeps Ban On Courtroom Cameras

KARLSRUHE, Germany (AP) - Germany's supreme court on Wednesday refused to allow cameras into courtrooms for blanket trial coverage, upholding privacy laws over the demands of the nation's increasingly competitive media.

The Federal Constitutional Court kept in place a 37-year-old law that allows pictures only before a trial starts and from verdict readings. The main complainant, the news channel n-tv - partly owned by CNN - carried the court ruling live.

The high court said the law remains needed to protect trial participants and guarantee fair proceedings without undue outside influence. Court vice president Hans-Juergen Papier said trials were not meant as public entertainment.

The court had faced warnings from attorneys and judges that it risks turning the courtroom into a U.S.-style "public pillory." Broadcaster n-tv argued that balanced television reports of trials would help viewers understand the justice system, and has complained that its reporters are at a disadvantage to print journalists.

"We wouldn't show reports on juvenile witnesses or defendants, or details from the private and intimate lives of even famous people," n-tv chairman Karl-Ulrich Kuhlo said.

Even n-tv has broadcast verdicts from German courts only three times.

German officials have argued that trial participants should concentrate on the legal issues and not on the impression they make to a wider public.

The ban on cameras was imposed in 1964 on the grounds that trial participants' objectivity could be affected if they suffered "inhibition in the presence of an incalculable and invisible circle of viewers."

Its backers have drawn new ammunition this month from competing news channels' live broadcasts from Miami of proceedings in tennis star Boris Becker's court struggle with his former wife, Barbara.

The sight of the nervous-looking star airing his domestic problems in public was a controversial novelty in a country that - like many other European countries - has strong personal privacy safeguards.

"Cameras must not be turned into a public pillory," said Rainer Voss, the chairman of the German Judges Union, citing the exhaustive coverage of the Becker courtroom drama.

"This makes it clear what a frightening development media publicity has taken," Voss said. "Prominent people apparently are seen as fair game by some journalists."

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