The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 35 media organizations asked a California appeals court to uphold a district court’s decision to release videotape recordings of the 12-day bench trial in January 2010 that challenged the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment adopted in 2008 denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The district court ruled that the recordings could be released in 2020 after KQED, a public media broadcasting service in San Francisco, sought access to the recordings.
In its friend-of-the-court brief, the Reporters Committee argues that release of the recordings would be consistent with the press and public’s First Amendment and common law rights to access to court proceedings, which are essential to encouraging fair judicial proceedings and fostering civic engagement. These rights are based on the fundamental “understanding that public access is necessary for informed civil discourse” about the matters before nation’s courts, and the recordings provide the best and most accurate depiction of the trial, the brief explains.
According to the brief, “Public access to the recordings would bolster confidence in the judicial process by allowing citizens, including the large numbers who could not attend this historic trial in person, to observe the workings of the judicial system.”
Releasing the recordings would also help journalists produce more complete and accurate news reports about the trial, the Reporters Committee argues, especially audio and video broadcasters whose work depends nearly exclusively on recordings. Though transcripts of the trial are available, audio-visual recordings convey much more information, the brief stated, including details such as tone of voice, expression, body language and inflection.
The Reporters Committee also asked the court to reject the argument made by those in favor of sealing the recordings that the recordings could be edited in a misleading way, citing a number of previous court decisions that rejected such speculative concerns as a basis for sealing. As the Reporters Committee noted, any concerns about editing are alleviated by public access to the full recordings, which provides everyone with the full context of an interaction or proceeding.
The media coalition’s full brief is available here.