On Monday, April 1, Utah will transition from being one of the most restrictive states in the union for cameras in courtrooms, to one of the most open. New rules go into effect that will allow cameras, live streaming, live blogging and tweeting from courts, unless the judge gives specific compelling reasons to deny coverage. Journalists must file a request to cover court proceedings at least 24 hours in advance. Cameras had previously been allowed under must tighter restrictions and only at the appellate court level, but because the new rules do not distinguish between different levels, cameras will be allowed at the trial court level for the first time. The language of the new rule is available on the Utah courts website.
RTDNA was among the groups leading the way to open Utah's courts to cameras, making it the 38th state to allow cameras on a routine basis. Most of the remaining states theoretically allow cameras in courtrooms, but under so many restrictions as to make coverage practically impossible. RTDNA continues to aggressively pursue rule changes and pilot programs in those states, as well as at the federal level, to make courts more open to the public.
"RTDNA is very pleased to add Utah to the growing list of states whose courts recognize the importance of openness through the electronic media," said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director. "We look forward to the day when the remaining 12 states and the U.S. Supreme Court will add their support for allowing full use of cameras in their courtrooms."
This week, the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins offered an impassioned plea for the Supreme Court to lead the way in opening federal courts to video and audio coverage, and USA Today editorialized that it's time for the Supreme Court to open its doors to cameras.
RTDNA believes just as print reporters are allowed to used the tools of their trade to report on court proceedings, radio and television journalists should be allowed to do the same. In state after state, electronic journalists have demonstrated that they can cover proceedings without being disruptive, willingly agreeing to pool camera arrangements when required and protecting the identity of witnesses in sensitive cases. In states where cameras are a routine presence, judges and attorneys go about their business without grandstanding or compromising the effective administration of justice.
Video and audio coverage of court proceedings have the capability to give the public a more accurate understanding of how our justice system works, far better than scripted courtroom dramas in movies and with more clarity than printed legalese after the fact. And allowing the public to see on camera the reality of a court passing sentence on those found guilty provides a stark reminder that there are consequences to unlawful actions. As Utah has decided, the public is best served by allowing access to the workings of all branches of government. RTDNA urges the federal courts and the remaining states with tighter restrictions on electronic coverage of their courts to follow Utah's lead.