NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FLORIDA · Broadcasting · Nov. 7, 2005
High court rejects restrictions on cameras in courts
Nov. 7, 2005 · The Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected a proposal Nov. 3 that would have strictly limited camera coverage of courtroom proceedings by the news media. The rule change was proposed presumably to protect privacy and confidential material.
“There’s no privacy in a public courtroom,” First Amendment Foundation lawyer Jonathan Kaney told the justices at a June hearing. The justices agreed.
The justices also unanimously vetoed a proposal that would have allowed judges to ban television and still pictures of jurors’ and potential jurors’ faces without holding hearings.
“We’re thrilled and see the court’s decision as continuing Florida’s tradition of public access to our courts,” Carol LoCicero, a lawyer for Cable News Network and five other media companies, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Media companies including 12 Florida news outlets — both newspaper and broadcast stations — as well as the First Amendment Foundation had opposed the proposed amendments.
Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Claudia Rickert Isom of Plant City, who chaired the Florida Bar committee proposing the changes, argued in favor of the changes despite protests from media lawyers who said they would effectively close courtrooms to public review and scrutiny. Isom said she was not surprised by the unanimous decision last week.
“We knew that those were going to be looked at very closely by the court,” she told the AP. “I’m good. There wasn’t a lot of ego vested in this.”
Janet Weaver, the executive editor of the Tampa Tribune, one of the papers opposing the rule change, told the AP the rejection was a victory for journalists and the public.
“Part of our responsibility is to bring readers and viewers into the courtroom,” Weaver said. “Journalists have proven to have been very responsible and respectful of the privilege.”
The Florida Rules of Judicial Administration allow both video and still cameras in the courtroom but their presence is subject to the judge’s discretion to control the courtroom and ensure a fair trial. It is rare that cameras are excluded. Rules currently provide that at least one portable television camera, operated by no more than one videographer, shall be permitted in any trial or appellate court proceeding. The number of cameras permitted is to be decided by the presiding judge, the rules state.
The court also rejected another proposal that would have limited the use of court security cameras to only security purposes.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen told the AP that security tapes can provide a record of wrongdoing and that an act of the Legislature, not a court rule, would be needed to exempt them from disclosure under the public records laws.
Other media companies that joined in opposing the rule changes: WFTS of Tampa- St. Petersburg, WPTV of West Palm Beach, the Naples Daily News, The Tribune of Fort Pierce, the Vero Beach Press-Journal, WFLA-TV of Tampa- St. Petersburg, WPLG of Miami- Fort Lauderdale, WJXT of Jacksonville, WKMG of Orlando and WSVN of Miami- Fort Lauderdale.