Access to courtrooms?

By Chris Daly 

There is a fascinating experiment going on near Boston that is an attempt to provide public access to the least transparent branch of government — the courts. Known as OpenCourt, the project is a collaboration between the Knight Foundation and the excellent news-and-public-affairs NPR affiliate WBUR.

(Full disclosure: WBUR’s broadcasting license granted by the FCC is held by the trustees of Boston University, which is my employer.)

OpenCourt streams live video to the Web of the proceedings of one court in Massachusetts, the Quincy District Court. As a free-speech advocate, I find it difficult to acknowledge, but the fact is that once in a great while, material arises in court that actually might be appropriate to suppress. Who should decide? On what criteria?

If a judge orders OpenCourt not to stream or post or archive a particular hearing, doesn’t that amount to “prior restraint” on the news media? Isn’t prior restraint the whole point of the First Amendment?

That was the issue yesterday in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Here’s the docket info. Here’s the coverage in the Globe. 

The state’s highest court did not rule immediately.

Stay tuned.


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Filed under broadcasting, First Amendment, Journalism

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