SPJ calls on Alamance County Court to allow reporters in all court proceedings
Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists calls on Alamance County Court in North Carolina to allow journalists access to all court proceedings.
After Alamance County Judge Fred Wilkins blocked journalists from access to his courtroom, offering no explanation, three newspapers filed a motion asking for clarity and demanding access to a future hearing. Alamance News publisher Tom Boney Jr. attempted to attend the hearing, but Wilkins had him removed from the courtroom, handcuffed and threatened to hold him in contempt of court.
“Judge Fred Wilkins needs to explain why he thinks, incorrectly, that he can bar journalists from his public courtroom and, worse yet, put them in handcuffs for trying to do their jobs,” SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall said. “We understand judges, like everyone else, wanting to keep their working environments safe during this pandemic, but he doesn't seem to have even offered that as a starting point for discussion. Any safety protocols must be balanced against the First Amendment and journalists' unquestionable right in North Carolina as elsewhere to observe public court proceedings. We hope the judge decides — or is told by higher authorities — to follow the law.”
Journalists must be allowed access to courtrooms so that they can accurately gather information to keep their communities informed, especially in the midst of a pandemic when people may be unable to attend hearings themselves. If journalists cannot be present in the courtroom, Alamance County courts should provide another way for them to view the hearing.
Wilkins should follow the guidelines set forth in an Alamance County administrative order from Oct. 12 which outlined a plan for cases where public interest was greater than socially distanced seating allowed. It stated that the court would offer a video livestream of the proceedings in another courtroom or broadcast audio for those unable to be in either courtroom.
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