RTDNA Urges Pa. Court to Remove Reporting Restrictions in Sandusky Case
RTDNA urges court to amend order to remove the restrictions on reporting the jury’s verdict before adjournment of court.
(AUSTIN, TX) - The following letter was dispatched today by RTDNA, the world's largest professional organization serving the electronic news profession. The group consists of more than 3,000 news directors, news associates, educators and students.
The group is writing to express the concerns of RTDNA’s members with regard to the June 21, 2012 Order in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gerald A. Sandusky...Read More
Hon. John M. Cleland, S.J.
Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division
Centre County Courthouse
Bellefonte, PA 16823-1488
Re: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gerald A. Sandusky, Case No. CP-14-CR-2421-2011, et al. – Objections to June 21, 2012 Order
Dear Judge Cleland:
On behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association (“RTDNA”), the world’s largest association devoted exclusively to electronic journalism, we are writing to express the concerns of RTDNA’s members with regard to the June 21, 2012 Order issued in the above-referenced case, which establishes procedures applicable to credentialed members of the media during jury deliberations, return of the verdict, and post-verdict proceedings. RTDNA believes the express prohibition on reporting the verdict in the trial of Jerry Sandusky until court has been adjourned is an impermissible prior restraint that violates the First Amendment protections of the media and will seriously interfere with journalists’ ability to report the news without sufficient legal justification.
Notably, the Order states that “any reporter who violates the terms of this order, or any news outlet that prints, publishes, or broadcasts any information prematurely transmitted from the courtroom in violation of the terms of this order” may be sanctioned. Paragraph 5 of the Order places restrictions on persons entering or leaving both Courtroom 1 and the Satellite Courtroom once a verdict has been reached. Further, Paragraph 5 specifies that “[t]he time that court is adjourned will be noted in the record. Any report or broadcast of the jury’s verdict posted or broadcast before the noted time will be deemed to have been made in violation of this order and may result in sanctions against both the reporter and the media outlet which broadcasts or otherwise distributes the information.” Reporters are allowed to electronically broadcast the verdict from the courtroom only after court is adjourned following the recording of the verdict, dismissal of the jury, and the consideration of motions raised by counsel.
A prior restraint – an administrative or judicial order forbidding a communication before it is disseminated – is antithetical to the First Amendment, as established by a long line of cases. As the United States Supreme Court repeatedly has stated, “[p]rior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement of First Amendment rights.” Nebraska Press Ass’n v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976). Any such restraint on expression comes with a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity. Thus, an order prohibiting reporters from disseminating information must be narrowly tailored and must serve a compelling government interest. Importantly, the Supreme Court has invalidated even very brief delays on publication imposed by the government. And, as the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has observed, “even a temporary delay in publication which causes no serious injury can be tolerated only under the most compelling circumstances.” Commonwealth v. Genovese, 487 A.2d 364 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1985). Other courts have held that a judicial order not to publish a jury verdict for a temporary period was an impermissible prior restraint. See Wood v. Goodson, 253 Ark. 196 (Ark. 1972) (“[n]o court, as we have indicated, has the power to prohibit the news media from publishing that which transpires in open court”).
Here, the instant Order goes beyond the Court’s earlier directive prohibiting the use of electronic devices to make electronic based communications in Courtroom 1 or the Satellite Courtroom, see Order (June 4, 2012), and instead more broadly targets any reporter or any news outlet that distributes the information before court is adjourned, not just the credentialed reporters in the courtroom that may prematurely broadcast the verdict using an electronic device in violation of the earlier Order. Further, under the Order, it would be impermissible for a member of the media to signal out the window to indicate the verdict or for any news sources to publish the verdict based on this non-electronic communication, even though this practice would not contravene the restriction on use of electronic devices. Even assuming that the Court has an interest in preserving decorum in the courtroom during the recording of the verdict, this interest does not rise to the level of a compelling justification for a prior restraint on the media and the broad and overreaching prohibition is not narrowly tailored to meeting that end.
RTDNA respectfully urges you to amend the June 21, 2012 Order to remove the restrictions on reporting the jury’s verdict before adjournment of court.
Kevin Benz, RTDNA Chairman
Mike Cavender, RTDNA/F Executive Director
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