The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

April 29, 2014

Changes open 'new era' in coverage of Iowa courts

Iowa’s Supreme Court deserves high marks for its willingness to revisit and update rules for expanded news media coverage (audio and video recording and photography) of courtroom proceedings in the state.

Amendments, which take effect on Thursday, were approved by the court after a 10-month review conducted by a 15-person advisory committee consisting of judges, attorneys (including Woodbury County Public Defender Greg Jones) and members of the media (including the Journal’s chief photographer, Tim Hynds).

“I am confident the expanded news media coverage rules as amended will continue Iowa’s tradition of openness and transparency of court proceedings and move us closer to Chief Justice (Mark) Cady’s goal of being the best court system in the nation,” Justice Bruce Zager, who chaired the advisory committee, said.

In our view, the most valuable tweak to the rules relates to new media practices, such as live blogging and tweeting. Before the changes were adopted by the Supreme Court, expanded news media rules largely were unchanged for more than 30 years and didn’t reflect advancements in technology utilized by media, including the Journal.

The new changes embrace emerging technologies by expressly allowing (subject to approval by the judge, who retains final authority for what happens in his or her courtroom) for real-time electronic reporting of proceedings and provide clear guidelines to media for their use. In other words, the changes establish clarity in a gray area for media, judges and attorneys.

In our view, the changes respect and strike a proper balance within the needs and concerns of media, judges and attorneys and speak to an overall commitment by the court system in Iowa to the important tenets of public accessibility, accountability and transparency.

Without question, the changes will benefit you, the consumer of court news, by virtue of improved, more informed coverage of what happens in our state’s courtrooms and how our legal system works.

“These changes ... usher in a new era in news coverage of Iowa’s courtrooms,” said Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director and advisory committee member Kathleen Richardson. “It’s exciting to see that the state remains on the forefront of embracing technological change to allow Iowans exceptional access to the judicial process.”

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