Society of Professional Journalists leaders send letter to Utah judge, ask that reporter contempt charge be dismissed
For Immediate Release:
Clint Brewer, President. (615) 301-9229
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter Oct. 31 to a judge in St. George, Utah that asked for contempt charges to be dismissed against a reporter who unknowingly violated a decorum order.
On Oct. 17, 5th District Judge James Shumate found KUTV reporter and anchor Katie Baker in contempt of court because she interviewed a jury candidate in the Warren Jeffs rape trial last month. Baker spoke to a prospective juror during a live broadcast at the same time of jury selection. Her actions violated an order that called for journalists to avoid jurors until after the verdict. Rather than order Baker to jail, Shumate put a hold on the ruling for 90 days and offered Baker the opportunity to do a story on a cause “that needs some attention.” In exchange, all charges would be dropped. Baker was not ordered to broadcast the story, but was asked to deliver it to Judge Shumate on a DVD.
Consistent with the Society’s position that journalists should not be intimidated by government officials for doing their jobs, Society leaders ask that charges against Baker and the expectation that she will produce a public service story be dropped completely. Baker had no knowledge of the decorum order and there is no evidence that suggests she intentionally or willfully disobeyed the order. As soon as she realized her error, she apologized and accepted responsibility for the mistake.
“A member of the judiciary ordering a journalist and their station to report a story is an affront to the First Amendment and the concept of a free press on quite a few levels,” SPJ National President Clint Brewer said. “Government officials, even those who sit on the bench, should not be allowed to order journalists to publish content they see fit. It is an egregious attack on the First Amendment and a dangerous stretch of the judiciary’s power.”
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.