RTDNA demands transparency in investigations of Missouri governor

March 5, 2018 11:00

Update March 23, 2018: RTDNA and partners have filed a Motion for Pre-Trial Conference  seeking to persuade the judge to allow broadcast coverage of Missouri Gov. Eric R. Greitens’ upcoming felony trial.

RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are demanding transparency in St. Louis City Circuit Court proceedings in the case of State of Missouri vs. Governor Eric Greitens, who was recently indicted on a felony charge of invasion of privacy. He is accused of taking photos of a woman with whom he was allegedly having an extramarital affair without her consent, prior to becoming governor.
According to a motion filed March 1 by five news media companies – including Meredith Corporation, which owns the television station in St. Louis that first reported the allegations against the governor (KMOV-TV), and Tribune Media Company, which owns television stations in St. Louis and Kansas City – the news media, and, by extension, the public, were denied access to Greitens’ initial court appearance following his February 22 indictment.
The Motion to Intervene says at least two subsequent hearings in the Greitens case – on February 23 and February 26 – were conducted with no, or very little, notice to the public and the news media. It also states, in part:
Because of the subject matter of this case and the public interest in it, it is important for the public to be able to follow all proceedings, and the news media necessarily act as proxy for the public in this regard. Accordingly, without effective advance notice to the media, and sufficient time for news reporters to get to court to observe the proceedings, the public will be cut off from the full opportunity to monitor and follow these proceedings. In addition to depriving the public of information, this situation can also be detrimental to the public’s confidence in the courts.
“Missouri’s state constitution and statutes unambiguously require open court proceedings. Any attempt by the St. Louis City Circuit Court, intentional or inadvertent, to keep hearings, trials or other proceedings shielded from the public view is, simply put, unlawful and unacceptable,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “We stand with Meredith, Tribune, and the other media companies who filed their Motion to Intervene and demand that the St. Louis courts follow the state constitution and laws.”
Additionally, RTDNA is demanding that a committee established by the Missouri House of Representatives to investigate Greitens conduct all of its business in full view of the public and the news media.
In a letter sent to the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight on behalf of the more than three dozen RTDNA members who live and work in Missouri, Shelley stated:
[We] urge you to conduct your committee’s investigation into allegations against Governor Eric R. Greitens with full openness and transparency. Specifically, we urge you … to permit news organizations to use “cameras or other audio or visual recording devices and ancillary lighting and electrical equipment” at your upcoming hearings.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office is concurrently investigating Greitens’ alleged use of a charity he established in 2007 to raise funds illegally for his 2016 campaign, although that accusation does not fall directly under the Missouri House investigating committee’s purview.
“The job – no, duty – of every journalist is to serve the public by reporting on matters of vital interest. Very few matters rise above the same level of obligation in this regard than official investigations into accusations of criminal conduct by a state’s chief executive,” Shelley added.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.