RTNDA Opines Court Ban in Op-Ed


The Radio-Television News Directors Association has taken its case for access to the federal judiciary to the court of public opinion.

RTNDA President Barbara Cochran, in an April 17 op-ed piece in The Washington Post, called for the Supreme Court and federal courts to open their proceedings to TV and radio coverage, as have most other courts.

"Most of the battles over electronic media access to public government proceedings were settled long ago," she wrote. "The House and Senate brought in cameras more than 20 years ago. All 50 states allow electronic media coverage in at least some courtrooms. Of all our government institutions, only the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary remain closed to the communications technology of the 21st century," she said.

Cochran and RTNDA were moved to renew their long-standing call for access after a Federal Marshal pressured reporters into erasing tapes they had made of an address by High Court Justice Antonin Scalia to some Mississippi high school students.

Scalia bars cameras and microphones from his appearances, but wound up apologizing for the seizure, which he said he knew nothing about. He also decided to modify his ban by allowing tape recorders in the future, but only for print reporters to check the accuracy of their stories.

The exclusion of electronic media prompted Cochran to write Scalia asking him to stop the unequal treatment.

In the Post piece, Cochran also expressed RTNDA's incredulity at Scalia's assertion of a First Amendment right to exclude the electronic media from his appearances.

In his letter of apology to the Mississippi reporters, Scalia said that he felt that TV or radio coverage would make him appear to be a politician "seeking public favor."

Cochran counters that the unequal treatment of electronic and print coverage is constitutionally suspect and that "keeping one branch of the government largely invisible is unhealthy for our democracy."