Knight Center
Knight Center


No tweets, no cameras: U.S. Supreme Court's rules outdated for digital era, journalists say

With the U.S. Supreme Court considering arguments on the constitutionality of the health care reform law, journalists, politicians, and even ordinary Americans are questioning how such a historic case can be covered without iPads, cell phones, or even cameras, especially in a media ecosystem of 24-7 news. The Supreme Court, which "stubbornly sticks to traditions that predate the communications revolution," banned all electronic devices from the courtroom, specifying that only old-fashioned note-taking with a pen and paper would be allowed, according to The New York Times.

The out-dated rules have journalists, now accustomed to tweeting the latest breaking news, scrambling to figure out how best to cover the three days of arguments, which got underway Monday, March 26. The one concession the court granted was to agree to release audio recordings and transcripts of the proceedings each day, NPR said.

Newspapers throughout the country published editorials calling on the Supreme Court to lift its ban on cameras. For example, an editorial from the Los Angeles Time argued that the public should be "outraged" by the ban on cameras. "Supreme Court proceedings are not simply government events; they are important historic moments and are of major educational, civic and national interest. There is a strong presumption that people should be able to watch government proceedings, and in ones as vitally important as this, the public has an especially great interest in transparency," the LA Times editorial said.

The Washington Post noted in an editorial that years ago Justice Antonin Scalia argued against cameras on the grounds that televising proceedings would "misinform the public rather than inform the public" -- a weak argument because, as the Post said, "the only impact of the no-cameras rule is to create a subset of Washington’s elite class."

C-SPAN, the cable television network that covers federal government around the clock, said it was "disappointed" by the court's refusal to allow cameras as video coverage is "in the public's best interest," reported the news agency AFP.

The decision also has upset politicians who petitioned the court to allow cameras in the courtroom, according to NPR. “It is a third branch of government. It is not a mystical priesthood. They have to be accountable just like the other two branches of government," said Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, as quoted by Politico.

The Washington Post noted that a USA Today/Gallup poll from December showed that more than seven in 10 Americans -- whether Democrats, Republicans, or independents, believe the Supreme Court should allow cameras to televise the arguments over the health care law.

1 comment

stevecoon wrote 6 years 4 weeks ago

Supreme Court Digital Media Ban

Although I fully support lifting the ban against camera and other digital media in the courts, let me be the devil’s advocate in this case.

If journalists are restricted to using only pen and paper to cover the Supreme Court debate of the Obama Health Care Reform Law, these may be the benefits:

1—Reporters will be forced to take careful notes that can be reviewed for accuracy prior to publication--unlike today’s instantaneous, error-prone reports under 24/7 pressure to Tweet, publish Facebook entries or post on the medium’s website;

2—Journalists will be forced to pay closer attention to longer exchanges between justices and lawyers instead of trying to capture a short soundbite that may distort the context of a statement. Such attention should lead to more thoughtful consideration of how to summarize such exchanges;

3—Finally, because the Court will not rule immediately after its hearing, there is no advantage to be the first medium to report what was said.

All of the above add up to a one positive—the opportunity for journalists and editors to take the time to get it right instead of getting it first.

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