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New rules favor press access to courts

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New rules favor press access to courts

  • Nearly two years after the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ban on electronic media covering the murder trial of two Dartmouth College professors, the high court has unveiled rules allowing camera access to courts.

Sep. 29, 2004 — Photographing, recording and broadcasting most court proceedings in New Hampshire is allowed as of earlier this month under new state Supreme Court rules.

Parties or judges seeking to ban cameras or microphones must show the presence of such equipment would cause harm, such as threatening a defendant’s right to a fair trial. The rules, which took effect Sept. 10, replace old ones that gave judges complete discretion in deciding whether or not to allow cameras and microphones in their courtrooms.

Judges can deny requests for closure without a hearing. If a judge grants a hearing, the Associated Press must be notified as well as its member newspapers, radio and television stations.

Anyone wishing to close a courtroom to cameras has “the burden of convincing the court, and the court now has obligation of holding a hearing and making factual findings if there is to closure of the courtroom to the electronic media,” Concord lawyer Jim Bassett told the Associated Press. Bassett represented several media organizations, including the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters, WMUR-TV, the Associated Press and The Boston Globe , during a lawsuit the media filed to gain access to the murder trial of the Dartmouth professors and the subsequent rule writing.

The rules also allow media coverage of legal proceedings taking place outside a courthouse, such as hospital arraignments, Bassett said.

“It’s a good example of cooperation between the media and the court,” Bassett said.

The new rules have received positive feedback from the news media. “I think that what the court has done is terrific and a great step forward First Amendment freedoms for broadcast media,” Jeff Bartlett, general manager of WMUR, told the Associated Press.

“I think it’s a good win for industry,” said Al Sprague, president of the broadcasters association, told AP. “It’s a good win for all of us, whether it be broadcasters or the print media.” Court proceedings are news, “and I think the public’s right to know outweighs anything else,” he said.

There were also concerns with other new rules. Tom Kearney, executive editor of The Keene Sentinel , said he was concerned by a new rule banning print as well as broadcast journalists inside a courtroom before and after formal proceedings.

KC

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