Big Brother eyes media in court
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Sunday, June 3, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
HARRISBURG -- The rest of the United States is about to see how backward Pennsylvania is in running its courtrooms.
With the Jerry Sandusky trial about to get under way in Centre County, a misguided decorum order from Judge John M. Cleland tries to balance a Pennsylvania Supreme Court rule prohibiting instantaneous electronic transmissions from courtrooms with growing demand in the media to file stories via text message and Twitter.
The bottom line: A reporter could be jailed for accurately quoting someone.
Sandusky, the legendary former Penn State defensive coordinator, faces charges of molesting 10 young boys he allegedly had groomed for victimization after meeting them through the Second Mile charity he founded.
Jury selection begins this week. Sandusky maintains his innocence.
The result of the court's policy is a baffling concept that allows texting and tweeting but prohibits verbatim accounts from being transmitted from inside courtrooms.
Here's some hypothetical testimony.
A witness says, "The traffic light was red and he drove through."
You would only be able to tweet, "The witness said he ran the red light."
The reality is that there will probably be little policing of this policy.
But it smacks of Big Brother editing free and direct speech.
We have free speech except in the courtrooms of Pennsylvania?
It presents an opportunity, in theory, for the state Supreme Court, through its minions and/or Centre County officials, to police what is transmitted from the courtroom. Just that possibility makes me queasy.
The public is used to televised trials on cable TV, like the O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony dramas. There's Court TV. Judge Judy. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this year allowed cable channel PCN to televise one of its court sessions.
And we in the media can't tweet an exact quote?
Now, a reporter covering the trial could transmit a verbatim quote from outside the courtroom. But a reporter would do so at the expense of missing other testimony and/or losing his or her seat.
News organizations are even paying for the wireless network that will carry the texts that may be monitored.
Here is why this is important.
In a murder trial, a witness says he saw the defendant walk toward the deceased, carrying a knife.
"He did it," the witness says.
"How do you know that?" the prosecutor asks.
"I saw him raise the knife and stab him again and again. Blood was dripping from his hand," the witness says.
It loses something in the translation to tweet, "The defendant stabbed him repeatedly."
Why would anyone concoct such a policy? Monitoring and limiting news coverage smacks of a totalitarian regime in Russia, China, Iran or Somalia.
Normally, objections to transmitting from courtrooms involve not wanting witnesses to see what other witnesses say. Or wanting to avoid jurors seeing what happened in a session the judge did not want the jury to see.
This isn't about that. It's about complying with a bass-ackwards rule against electronic transmissions from courtrooms. It is a halfway measure that fails.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Got proof on Tomlin? Let’s hear it
- Ex-Penguins winger Kennedy ‘emotional’ about return
- Film about former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis in prestigious festival
- Ex-Steeler WR Wallace: It was a ‘challenge’ for Haley to use me
- McKeesport council approves budget with no tax hike
- Mon Yough Chamber’s ‘Lunch and Learn’ uncovers Carnegie ‘gem’
- McKeesport club has railroad display on track for holiday
- Salvation Army donations lag
- Port Vue council set to join host fee legal fight
- Sandy Hook 911 calls fuel sensitivity debate
- Steelers coach Tomlin fined $100K by NFL