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Ito Weighs Possible TV Camera Ban Today : Simpson case: Few journalists think judge will follow through on threat to oust coverage from his court. But media lawyers will be out in force to argue their case.


When Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito opens scheduled hearings this morning in the O.J. Simpson double murder case, he will take up an issue that has been on the back burner for weeks: whether he should end courtroom television coverage of the most publicized criminal case in recent American jurisprudence.

While few journalists think the judge will follow through with his threat to ban the single television camera that provides live images from the Simpson case to scores of broadcast outlets, no one is taking a chance; news media and civil liberties lawyers will be out in force today to argue against the ban.

Nearly a dozen news organizations, including The Times, have filed joint or separate written arguments against what they view as an unfair, misdirected attempt by Ito to deal with his frustrations over inaccurate or improper reporting by some television stations.

Joining with them are legal scholars, journalism associations, broadcast and print trade groups and an Arizona-based coalition that fights to protect constitutional freedoms of speech and the press.

And the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a so-called "friend of the court" brief in hopes of dissuading Ito from banning the camera, which is operated by Court TV.

The all-court cable network has provided its viewers--and viewers of other TV outlets--with live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of almost all the Simpson proceedings except jury selection, which by court rules cannot be broadcast.

"Whatever problems have arisen regarding certain media reports in the case do not relate to the issues of televising the actual courtroom proceedings," the ACLU wrote in its brief.

"Indeed the surest antidote to misinformation about this case is courtroom audio and video that allows the public to hear and see what is happening as it happens."

Peter Arenella, a UCLA law professor who joined the ACLU's brief, argues that the broadcast blackout would fail to lessen the "intense media glare" surrounding the case.

Rather, he said, it would only increase the chances of inaccurate or irresponsible stories by reporters desperate for a competitive edge.

President Clinton, in a television interview taped Sunday after a campaign appearance in Seattle, said he was "troubled" by the amount of pretrial publicity and, in particular, by the televising of the pretrial proceedings.

"It would have been better if they (pretrial hearings) hadn't" been televised, Clinton said in an interview with CNN's Larry King, who had asked the President if he thought Simpson could receive a fair trial.

Televising the trial itself would pose less of a problem because the jury has already been chosen, Clinton said.

"I think there can be a fair trial, but it's much more difficult to impanel a jury" because of the publicity, said Clinton, who once served as Arkansas' attorney general. "There's never been anything like it."

Although jurors have been questioned about putting aside what they already know about the case, "we can't help being affected by the things we know," Clinton said.

Clinton's remarks on the case were unusual. Presidents generally do not comment on pending trials to avoid the possibility of inadvertently influencing jurors. President Nixon drew headlines when he declared Charles Manson guilty during that trial.

Clinton also praised both the defense attorneys and prosecutors, as well as the judge, saying he thinks Ito has been "firm and fair."

"He has an enormously difficult task," Clinton added. "It's a very sad case. It's the sort of thing that brings great pain to the country."

Ito first made his threat to exclude the camera in late September, three days before jury selection began. The threat came after local television station KNBC Channel 4 reported and then stood by its story that a pair of socks retrieved from Simpson's bedroom had been subjected to DNA tests at a Maryland laboratory.

The KNBC report asserted that test results pointed to Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson as the source of blood found on the socks, a clear--and unproven--implication that Simpson had been at the murder scene outside his ex-wife's condominium in Brentwood.

The station later acknowledged that at least some information provided by its sources had been inaccurate.

Ito felt the KNBC report had the potential of prejudicing a jury against the former football great, who has pleaded not guilty in the June 12 deaths of his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Ito was joined in that conclusion by both the defense and the prosecution, which contended that its credibility was being eroded.

But the matter seemed to have been forgotten until Oct. 3, when Ito learned that local television stations had, against court rules, aired footage from inside the courthouse that showed the faces of jurors sitting on cases other than Simpson's.

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