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SJC unveils proposal to expand use of cameras in courtrooms

Move to aid blog, Web reporting

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / November 30, 2010

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State judges may soon open courtrooms to citizen journalists and bloggers while also increasing the ability of mainstream journalists to connect directly with readers on the Internet.

The Supreme Judicial Court released proposed revisions to its rules governing cameras in the courtroom yesterday, proposals designed to reflect the dramatic changes in society and the news media industry over the past several years.

Reacting to the emergence of citizen journalists who report on public issues on Internet blogs and the arrival of video on the Web, the court’s proposed new rule would allow three cameras to cover the same court proceeding — one for broadcast television, one for Web users, and a still camera for newspapers and other traditional media.

Currently only two cameras — one for television, and one for newspapers — are permitted.

The court is also seeking to strike a balance between journalism in the 21st century and security concerns in criminal trials that have already led to a ban of cellphones, especially those with cameras, in courthouses statewide.

Before a person can head into a courtroom with a camera, they must first register with the court’s Public Information Office and also be required to show they qualify as journalists under a new definition worked out by a special media-court panel.

In a summary released yesterday, the court said “the news media would be defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest.’’

The rules would allow journalists to use laptop computers and other electronic devices while court is in session, provided it is not disruptive.

Even with the new rules, judges still have the authority to ban cameras in certain circumstances. Also, journalists would still be barred from recording jurors at all times during a trial, whether it is a civil or criminal matter.

The proposals were created by the Supreme Judicial Court’s Judiciary-Media Committee, which included a representative from The Boston Globe and members of other news organizations, during a series of meetings this year.

The SJC is seeking public feedback on the proposal before deciding whether to adopt the changes.

Comments can be sent to Christine P. Burak, Secretary, Supreme Judicial Court Rules Committee, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston MA 02108 on or before Jan. 28, 2011.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.