MNPA Joins in Legal Fight for Access to Documents in Bradley Manning Court Martial

The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 30 national and regional news organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief seeking access to documents filed in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking classified documents to the website Wikileaks.

The brief follows from a request by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a number of other organizations to intervene in the Manning court martial in order to obtain access to documents filed in the proceeding. The trial court denied the request, a decision that was affirmed by the military’s intermediate appellate court. CCR appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest appellate court.

The RCFP friend-of-the-court brief support CCR’s position, arguing that the well-recognized right of public access to judicial proceedings mandates access to courts-martial documents. In cases like these, where profound issues are at stake, pervasive secrecy fuels a perception that the U.S. government keeps too many secrets, the brief argued. If the public is to have any faith in its government generally and the justice administered by military tribunals specifically, it needs to have confidence that the system is operating in the open, where potential misconduct may be exposed, it added.

Another New England organization, the New England First Amendment Center, also joined in the brief.

To read more, see Reporters Committee supports access to court filings, docket in Manning court-martial.

SJC Issues New Rule on Cameras and Technology in Courtrooms

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has announced approval of a new SJC Rule 1:19 governing Electronic Access to the Courts. The new rule replaces the former rule, which governed cameras in the courts, and extends it to recognize changes in technology and journalism since the original rule was promulgated. Notably, the rule is designed to recognize so-called citizen journalists. A PDF of the new rule is here: SJC Rule 1:19.

The MNPA was part of the committee that helped draft this new rule. Others on the committee included judges, clerks, court administrators, lawyers, media representatives and bloggers. Key provisions of the new rule, as outlined in an SJC announcement today, include:

  • The news media are defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest. This would include citizen journalists who meet this standard.
  • The news media are allowed to use laptop computers and other electronic communication devices inside courtrooms if they are not disruptive to the proceedings.
  • Those seeking to cover the courts using the permitted technology are required to register with the SJC’s Public Information Officer, confirm that they meet the definition of news media and agree to follow the provisions in Rule 1:19. A judge has the discretion to permit electronic access by a person who had not registered.
  • In addition to one video and one still camera, a second mechanically silent video camera is allowed for use by media other than broadcast television and still photographers.
  • Motions to suppress may be electronically recorded.
  • If news media ask to record multiple cases in a session on the same day, a judge may reasonably restrict the number of cases that are recorded to prevent undue administrative burdens on the court.
  • The rule applies to clerk magistrates conducting public proceedings.

The rule represents a significant step forward for electronic access to Massachusetts courts.