By Donald Meyers | July 23rd, 2012
The Utah Judicial Council is considering new rules that would allow electronic media, including video and audio, coverage of trials in the state. Currently, the state only allows still photography in district court cases. Another rule allows for the use of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices in courtrooms, with the judge’s permission. These rules represent a significant change. The comment period is open until Aug. 14. You can comment here. I posted the following there:
As regional director for the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, I fully support adopting Rule 04-0401.01, which would allow electronic media coverage of court proceedings.
The rule would allow the public to see and hear more accurately what actually takes place in Utah’s courtrooms. For many Utahns,this might provide their first look into the judicial system. This rule change will place Utah’s courts at the forefront of transparency, which benefits the courts, those who appear before its bar and the public it serves.
An open court has been one of the hallmarks of American society. Our nation’s founders understood the abuses of England’s Star Chamber and secret tribunals, and made sure that trials would be for the most part open to the public. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme has recognized the First Amendment right of the public and press to attend court proceedings. Increasing accessibility is a logical extension of the right.
Today, the judicial branch is one of the more powerful branches of government. It not only defines and enforces the laws, but it also has the power to deny people of property, liberty and — in some cases — life. But it is one branch that is partly shrouded in mystery. Most people usually do not have occasion to go to a courtroom. And past rules on media coverage have helped further obscure the court’s operation from the public eye. Permitting journalists’ video cameras and audio recorders into courtrooms will allow people to see better how the courts operate, giving them a better perspective than they would otherwise have.
The court is currently engaged in a campaign to encourage more Utahns to perform their civic duty as jurors. Opening up the courts to digital media would help advance that effort as people would have a better understanding of what happens at a trial, rather than having to rely on what they see in entertainment media.
Openness would also further ensure a defendant’s right to a fair trial. With more people being able to watch or hear a trial, it would allow the public to see whether a defendant truly had his day in court and that the justice that was being administered in their name was done without fear or favor.
This rule, and 04-0401.02, recognize the realities of our modern digital age. It makes sense to allow journalists to use the modern tools of their profession to provide the public with an accurate account of the court’s proceedings. Utah’s journalists have demonstrated their professionalism in following the rules governing still photography, and they will do so with electronic technology as well.
I respectfully urge the judicial council to adopt these rules and allow Utah to serve as an example of transparency.