Modern technology spurs Iowa Supreme Court review of media policies

EMC rules cover audio and video recording, photography, liveblogging from trials

The Iowa Supreme Court announced Friday that it has appointed a committee to review the expanded media coverage rules that allow audio and video recording and photography of courtroom procedures.

State court officials said the rules were first approved by the Supreme Court in 1979 and have been slightly modified since that time.

"As a district judge, I enjoyed a good relationship with the members of the media covering high profile trials," said Iowa Supreme Court Justice Bruce Zager of Waterloo, who will serve as the committee chairman. "Working with radio, television and print media was a collaborative effort that generally worked well.

“Today, judges and court staff are faced with requests from the media to use new technology in the courtroom, such as laptops and smartphones for blogging and twitter,” he added. “Those types of technologies and media are not specifically addressed in current rules, which can cause some confusion in implementing the EMC Rules. The efforts of this committee will help both members of the media and members of the court navigate through media requests unheard of 10 years ago."

Before 1979, recording equipment and cameras were only allowed in the courtroom for ceremonial proceedings or educational purposes.

Court officials said the rules were changed because of the improvement in equipment and procedures used by the media and the desire of the supreme court for the judicial branch to be more open and accessible to the public.

The electronic media coverage rules were first approved for a one-year pilot period, and the first trial covered under the experiment was a first-degree murder trial in Black Hawk County in 1980. The rules were made permanent after a successful pilot period, according to a judicial branch news release.

"Most Iowans do not have the time to attend court proceedings, so they depend upon the media to keep them informed of the work of the courts," Zager noted in the release. "For more than 30 years, the courts have worked with the media to allow audio and video coverage to the fullest extent possible without impinging the rights of litigants to a fair trial."

Members of the Expanded Media Coverage Rules Committee announced Friday included: Zager, District Judge Robert Hanson of Des Moines, District Associate Judge Christine Dalton of Davenport, District Court Administrator Kent Wirth of Council Bluffs, Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller of Marshalltown, Woodbury County Public Defender Gregg Jones of Sioux City, Fort Madison attorney Elaine Fehseke Gray, Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson of Des Moines, Peggy Senzarino of the Mason City Globe Gazette, KCCI-TV news reporter Amanda Lewis of Des Moines, Zack Kucharski of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Tim Hynds of the Sioux City Journal, Nancy Raffensperger Newhoff of the Waterloo Courier, Kathy Richardson of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council in Des Moines, and state court liaison Steve Davis of Des Moines.

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