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Pilot camera program breaks barrier in final state

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         SOUTH DAKOTA         Broadcasting         Jul 31, 2001    

Pilot camera program breaks barrier in final state

  • Supreme Court justices in South Dakota, the last state to totally bar electronic media coverage, will permit television and still cameras to record high court hearings.

South Dakota became the 50th state to allow cameras in at least some of its courtrooms July 26 as the state Supreme Court adopted a policy allowing television and still photographers to record its proceedings.

Media groups hailed the decision, which comes just months after Mississippi opened its highest court and appellate courts to cameras, the 49th state to do so.

South Dakota Chief Justice Robert Miller said the camera coverage would be allowed as a pilot program subject to an annual review by the court. The decision comes after a task force, which included court officials, journalists, and lawyers, met for several months to study the issue.

“We’re very pleased with the decision,” said Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association. “Obviously this has been a long time in coming. Now it’s up to the press in South Dakota to demonstrate this can work. When we prove that and the public benefit is demonstrated, then we can look at opening the other courts.”

The decision applies only to the state Supreme Court.

Bordewyk praised Miller, who will retire from the court later this year. Miller appointed the study group last year and moved quickly to adopt its recommendations.

“A lot of credit goes to the chief justice. There were years of conversations just to get to this point,” Bordewyk said.

For years, Mississippi and South Dakota resisted allowing cameras in the courtroom, holding out as other states shifted their rules. But in April, Mississippi Chief Justice Edwin Pittman reversed course, setting up a webcast of the court’s hearings and allowing journalists to plug into the court’s video feed to record hearings. A similar system is being set up in the state’s appellate courts.

At the federal level, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bill that would allow cameras in federal courtrooms. A similar bill failed last year.

Most observers believe it is unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will allow cameras anytime soon, although journalists were heartened by the court’s decision to release audio broadcasts of the oral arguments from Bush v. Gore.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, praised South Dakota’s decision to open its high court to coverage and vowed to continue to push for greater access elsewhere.

“The decision announced today in South Dakota, the progress we’re making in Mississippi, the success we had with the U.S. Supreme Court last year, and pending federal legislation all give us great hope that Americans will soon have direct access to the third branch of government in every state and at the national level, too,” Cochran said in a news release.


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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