20 March, 2007

media & the courts

First Amendment Center:

. . . consider the raft of instances lately in which judges or prosecutors have decided to step into newsrooms in one manner or another in pursuit of notes, interviews, videotapes or telephone conversations, or have attempted to prevent publication or broadcast of information to readers and viewers.

According to Associated Press reports, in just the past few weeks:

In Missouri, a state judge ordered two newspapers not to publish material they had received about public utilities and air pollution, but the order was lifted after a state appeals court stepped in.

In California, federal officials investigating steroid use by famous athletes discontinued efforts to force two San Francisco reporters to disclose their sources, after a lawyer pleaded guilty to being the source. But a freelance videographer, Joshua Wolf, remains in jail in San Francisco for refusing to turn over to a grand jury his videotape of a protest event.

In Kansas, a newspaper and television station were ordered to turn over reporters' notes taken during interviews with a man who faces a capital murder charge in the death of a 14-year-old girl.

In Tennessee, a federal judge is considering whether to enforce a 1974 agreement that would close arrest information to reporters unless and until there’s a conviction based on the arrest.

In Florida, a state judge reversed his original order that Orlando’s WKMG-TV could not air investigative reports about a political consultant based on 84 boxes of documents it obtained at an auction.

In Massachusetts, a judge ruled that the news media could not reproduce the particularly graphic photos and videos from a murder trial that ended last year.

In Texas, a state judge resisted a request by prosecutors for an order telling Houston's KPRC-TV to turn over unaired footage of some interviews. An assistant district attorney had told the court the prosecution subpoenaed the video to help with investigations and possibly trial preparations.
Clearly, this is more than a tempest in an inkpot. Somewhere, somehow, for some reason a long-standing ethic that the news media are not just another investigative tool for police, nor subject to “editors of the court,” has broken down.

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