MNSPJ opposes restrictions to cameras in courts

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists supports the Minnesota Supreme Court in its efforts to bring the sound and pictures of the courtroom into the homes of all Minnesotans.

On April 25, the court will take public testimony on an advisory committee’s proposal it make permanent a pilot program allowing cameras to cover some sentencings in courtrooms. Until the pilot program, the public had little or no access via pictures and sound to one of the most important branches of government — the one that can give or take away a citizen’s freedom.

The pilot program has proven to not only shed light on the taxpayer-funded justice system, but shown that transparency does no harm to the administration of justice or victims of crime. It has only given the people more insight into the emotions, complications and humanity that plays out in Minnesota courtrooms every day.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists supports this hard-fought First Amendment right and opposes those at the Minnesota Legislature who would favor restricting how public audiences can see court proceedings.

We oppose ill-advised legislation that would shut down access to information that shows how the justice system works and return to a blackout system in Minnesota courtrooms.

We strongly disagree with DFL and GOP members of the House of Representatives Public Safety Committee who favored including the bill in final omnibus legislation that would also be problematic to the Minnesota Constitutional separation of powers, as outlined by the objections of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Testimony at the public safety committee hearing on this bill was flawed, suggesting victims would no longer come forward should cameras be allowed. Those testifying provided no evidence to back up their claims. Under the current pilot program and the one proposed, victims cannot be photographed or recorded without their written consent.

Minnesota is far behind the transparency in government curve compared to our neighboring states, who all allow cameras in nearly all court proceedings while Minnesota’s plan allows cameras only after a verdict has been rendered.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists holds the belief that camera access in courts equates to public access.

Jenna Ross, MNSPJ president
Joe Spear, MNSPJ president-elect
Hal Davis, MNSPJ, FOIA committee
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Joe Spear
Managing Editor
The Free Press
Mankato Magazine
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