What the courts want the media to understand
A high-profile case is one of hundreds or thousands of cases being heard at any given time in the specific court location. Each case requires individualized attention. It is the court’s responsibility to ensure every case gets a full and fair hearing within statutorily required timelines, whether the media is there or not. The following additional points should be considered by the media:
- The trial judge should not be the media’s first point of contact about the case, as the judicial code of conduct significantly limits what the trial judge can say about the case.
- The court will provide media with the name and contact information for the primary court staff member (or court PIO) serving as liaison with the media and coordinator of media coverage of the hearing or trial.
- Court PIOs can provide the media with information which will give the public a much more robust understanding of the proceedings, but there are also limits as to what they can say.
- Court PIOs are an excellent resource to fact check stories and provide the public with an accurate understanding of the proceedings.
- The relationship between the court and the media works more effectively if there is trust between the two. The court will make every effort to earn that trust.
- The judge has the responsibility for managing the case inside and out of the courtroom to ensure, to the best of his or her ability, a fair and orderly disposition of the case.
- The court will endeavor to compile and distribute logistical information in advance of the initial hearing, i.e., including parking, access, workspace, seating, security, credentialing, wireless capabilities, electronic device restrictions, interviews, photography and audio-recording parameters, calendaring, and expected courtroom and courthouse behavior. This information will be updated as necessary. This information may be included in a “Decorum Order.”
- Ask the court PIO for information regarding local resources and contact information for how to access case documents, procedural resources, exhibits, the courthouse, the courtroom, subject matter experts, judicial officers, IT support, the court administration and security.
- The court may provide a case-related website for accessing court documents and other important information. Please make use of it if it is available.
What the court should understand about the media needs
The media today is a very diverse group that extends beyond traditional television, radio and print reporting. It includes internet-based reporting such as online newspapers, bloggers, online only video, online radio, etc. All of these forms of media are legitimate and help the public to better understand the proceeding. However, this has caused the industry to be highly competitive and individual reporters may be under significant pressure to deliver more information for the public. The media needs the following:
- Written information which describes the rules and procedures the media must following and any special accommodations/allowances for media. This should include a definition of “media.”
- Timely and accurate responses to all inquiries.
- Assurance that all media outlets will be treated fairly and equally.
- Accurate information about the length of the proceeding and the timeline of future case events.
- Resources such as media advisories, quick reference guides to the courts and availability online of court filings and other documents.
- An understanding from the court that the modern media is technology driven so they need electronic access inside and out of the courtroom to the extent possible.
- Court orders written in a way that is comprehensible to non-lawyers.
- The names and contact information for people who are knowledgeable and can explain processes, etc.
- A point of contact to assist in making logistical accommodations inside and out of the courtroom.