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Iowa looking to expand electronic courtroom reporting

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 10:55 a.m. CDT

CEDAR RAPIDS (MCT) — Iowa is looking to become among a handful of states that allow — on a statewide basis — live electronic reporting from the courtroom, including live blogging and “tweeting.”

A proposal to revise the Iowa court rules for expanded media coverage also looks to broaden the court’s definition of news media. That means, for example, that someone who does not work for a news agency but regularly blogs about criminal cases could receive approval to post live updates during court proceedings.

“The Supreme Court requested the review because judges and court staff are faced with bloggers, smart phones, and Twitter, among other forms of technology that are not specifically addressed in the current rules,” according to a news release from the Iowa Judicial Branch.

If the Iowa Supreme Court approves the proposed rule revisions, Iowans could see more live electronic coverage of criminal cases on more platforms. It also would mean uniformity among Iowa court houses.

“It was inconsistent around the state,” said Steve Davis, court communications officer for the Iowa Judicial Branch. “It was allowed in some areas and not in others.”

Iowa’s expanded media coverage rules first were approved in 1979, and they have been only slightly updated since. The proposed changes are the result of a 10-month review by an advisory committee, and they must now go through a 60-day public comment period.

The Supreme Court will have the ultimate say as to whether the rules are changed, according to Davis. The goal of the new rules, according to the committee’s final report, is to “allow transparency of the legal process while not disrupting court proceedings or interfering with individual rights.”

The proposed expanded definition of “electronic devices” is broad enough to allow for the introduction of future technology, and the new definition of “live electronic reporting” would allow for tweeting, blogging and other methods of real-time reporting, according to the report.

The term “news media” was not defined under the old rules. The proposal gives that term a broad definition – “any person who regularly gathers, prepares, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports or publishes news or information about matters of public interest in any medium.”

But it still requires that person to successfully apply to participate in news media coverage and to agree to comply with all court rules.

“This will allow the judicial officer better control of the courtroom when there are several members of the news media covering a case,” according to the report.

Because today’s reporters often use multiple electronic devices to report a story, the committee proposed increasing the number of people who are allowed to record or photograph in a courtroom.

Existing rules allow two still cameras, two video cameras and an audio recorder. The amended rules do not limit the number of any particular device but rather allow for no more than five members of the media to be using still cameras, video cameras, audio records or other electronic devices.

Supreme Court Justice Bruce B. Zager said in a news release that the proposed rules are meant to address “modern news gathering practices in the courtroom while protecting the rights of parties to a fair trial, personal privacy and safety.”

Only a handful of other states have rules allowing for electronic reporting in the courtroom statewide, according to the committee.

“Iowa historically has been at the forefront of allowing open access to its court proceedings,” Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Kathleen Richardson said in a news release. “And the proposed revisions to the rules for expanded media coverage will prepare Iowa’s courts for the reality of modern digital news-gathering and publishing.”

To submit comments about the proposed rule changes, visit the judiciary’s website.

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©2013 The Gazette thegazette.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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