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Mass. extends journalists electronic access in courts

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  1. Court Access
Journalists will soon be able to use laptop computers and other mobile electronic devices in Massachusetts courtrooms, after the state's…

Journalists will soon be able to use laptop computers and other mobile electronic devices in Massachusetts courtrooms, after the state's highest court adopted a new rule designed to recognize changes in journalism and technology.

The rule also broadly defines "news media" and extends to any individual who gathers and disseminates information, whether in print or electronic format, about matters of public interest and concern to the public.

The new version of Rule 1:19 replaces the former rule, which governed cameras in the courtroom. The old rule was written in the 1980s and did not include any references to cellphones and laptops.

The new rule does not affect court proceedings or hinder journalists' access to court proceedings, said Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. The newspaper association was part of the committee that helped draft the new rule.

"The importance is that it acknowledges that technology has changed and recognizes the increased use of computers and mobile devices," Ambrogi said.

Reporters will be able to do their work in real time, and the new rule recognizes that there are many different people who gather and disseminate information, said Neil Ungerleider, co-chair of the Massachusetts Supreme Court Judiciary-Media Committee, who drafted the new rule.

Under this new rule "there is no difference in rights of electronic access between The Boston Globe and one who posts to a daily community blog," he said.

The amended version of Rule 1:19 defines news media as organizations and individuals who regularly gather and disseminate information about matters of public interest “in any medium, whether print or electronic.” This includes citizen journalists who meet this criterion.

Those who qualify as news media must register with the public information officer of the Supreme Judicial Court in order to possess and operate the devices and equipment in the courtroom. These devices include “still and video cameras, audio recording or transmitting devices, and portable computers or other electronic devices with communication capabilities" as long as they are not disruptive.

The new rule takes effect on July 1.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· The First Amendment Handbook: Civil courts — Cameras and recording equipment

· Dig.J.Leg.Gd.: Cameras in courtrooms


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