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Society Challenges Supreme Court to Expand Further its Media Access Policy to Allow Cameras in Courtroom


Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400; Christine Tatum, SPJ Legal Defense Fund chairwoman, 312/222-5184 or ctatum@tribune.com

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to broaden its media access policies, despite its recent decision to expedite the release of audiotapes for Friday's scheduled hearings on the results of the 2000 presidential election.

"We congratulate the court for vowing to swiftly and expeditiously release audiotapes of this very historic hearing," said SPJ President Ray Marcano. "That's an excellent first step. We still, however, remain disappointed that the court will not allow pool television coverage for the hearing. The public's interest would be best served by allowing such coverage, and we strongly urge the court to reconsider its stand, not only now, but in the future."

The Court is expected to release to media outlets the audiotapes of Friday's hearings in the Bush vs. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, No. 00-836 case promptly after its hearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court does not allow cameras in its courtroom. Marcano sent a letter Nov. 27 to U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asking him to allow C-SPAN to provide coverage of any legal case regarding the outcome of the presidential election to all accredited media outlets. C-SPAN also wrote a letter requesting that Rehnquist allow the news organization to bring its cameras into the high court.

"Yesterday the Court took up the question of televising these proceedings, and a majority of the Court remains of the view that we should adhere to our present practice of allowing public attendance and print media coverage of argument sessions, but not allow camera or audio coverage," Rehnquist wrote Nov. 28 in a faxed response to Marcano's letter.

"In light of the public interest in the Bush case, a transcript will be made available on an expedited basis on the day of the argument," Rehnquist continued in the written statement. "Additionally, the Court today has decided to release a copy of the audiotape of the argument promptly after the conclusion of the argument."

Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, commended Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for advocating a more open media policy in the Supreme Court.

"I believe the bi-partisan request by Senators Schumer and Grassley was the key to convincing the court to speed up the release of its audio recording and transcripts, said Marquand, special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network. "While the court's decision is short of what we had wished, it still recognizes the public's interest in this case. As members of the media, we owe our thanks to the senators for advocating on behalf of C-SPAN. We also should thank them as citizens.

"I hope more members of Congress will join the call to bring full public access to federal courts in general and America's highest court in particular," Marquand continued.

Grassley and Schumer wrote Rehnquist on Wednesday requesting that the Supreme Court allow television coverage of Friday's hearing on the presidential election.

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