TCOG urges Tennessee Supreme Court to allow journalists to use electronic tools in courtrooms


For immediate release

Aug. 3, 2015


Lucian T. Pera, vice president, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

(901) 524-5278,

Deborah Fisher, executive director, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

(615) 602-4080,

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has filed comments with the Tennessee Supreme Court, urging it to change its proposed revision of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 30 so that journalists can use electronic tools in courtrooms, while still allowing for regulation of video or audio recordings.

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 30 was adopted in 1996 to govern the use of cameras in the courtroom by media. In general, the rule spells out guidelines designed to avoid disruption or distraction during courtroom proceedings, and requires journalists to seek advance approval if they want to take photographs or video during courtroom proceedings.

In March, the Tennessee Supreme Court published proposed changes to update the Rule in light of the fact that, in the years since the Rule was adopted, many new devices, such as smartphones and tablets, now easily record and transmit video and audio, while in 1996, only more expensive and bulky video cameras were available for this purpose. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule is Friday, Aug. 14.

In its comments to the Court, TCOG agreed that Rule 30 needs to be updated, but said that it had grave concern that the adoption of the language proposed by the court “would be a striking backward step away from the Tennessee tradition of judicial openness.”

“Many Tennessee journalists who have studied the Court’s proposed revision are convinced,” TCOG wrote, “that, were this Court to adopt its original proposed language in the form published in the Court’s March 15, 2015, Order, ordinary working journalists would no longer be able to do their job without new, wholly impractical restrictions. TCOG believes these journalists are right, and believes that their concerns must be accommodated in any revision to Rule 30.”

Under the Court’s proposed Rule 30 revision, TCOG noted, “No reporter of any kind – not an individual blogger, or a print newspaper reporter, or a TV reporter or producer, or a radio journalist, or a journalist writing a book about a trial — could bring into a courtroom, or use in a courtroom, any smartphone, tablet computer, or a laptop computer, for any purpose whatsoever, without advance approval two days in advance.”

“Absent this two-day-in-advance approval, no reporter could use her laptop to take notes, or her iPad to write a story on the proceeding. Without advance approval, no reporter could use her iPhone to communicate with her editor during a hearing, no matter how silently she did so (such as by texting). And if reporters cannot take their phones into courtrooms, this necessarily means they will not have them in the courthouse, thereby prohibiting them from using their phones even though everyone else (such as lawyers) will have their phones in the courthouse to use during breaks.”

TCOG is convinced that the Court did not intend by its proposed language to curtail access by journalists, but only to propose legitimately needed updates to the Rule to accommodate changed technology. TCOG urged that accommodation should be made “to allow journalists to use these tools in an appropriate way.”

To accomplish these two goals – updating Rule 30 to accommodate new video and audio recording and broadcasting technology and ensuring the ability of ordinary journalists to use today’s electronic tools in the courtroom – TCOG’s comment to the Court advocated adopting alternative language submitted by the Tennessee Bar Association. The TBA’s alternative language provides for continued regulation of photography, videography or audio broadcast, but allows other devices to be used in such a way that does not distract or interfere with proceedings.

TCOG commented to the Court that “the line the Court should draw in updating Rule 30 should not be a line based on the identity or capability of devices (a standard that would be held hostage to the latest developments and changes in technology — will watches be covered by the Rule in the next year?), but should instead be a line based on the use to which any device of any kind is put. The Rule should concern itself with conduct of those present in the courtroom, not the technology they carry.”

Lucian Pera

Lucian Pera

Doug Pierce

Doug Pierce

In supporting the TBA’s proposed revision of Rule 30, TCOG said that it “strikes an appropriate balance between allowing journalists to use the tools they need to continue their reporting on courts, while providing the Tennessee courts the tool they need to regulate fully the core concern of Rule 30 — the recording and broadcast of video and audio of Tennessee court proceedings.”

TCOG’s president Doug Pierce with King & Ballow in Nashville and vice president Lucian T. Pera, with Adams and Reese LLP in Memphis, submitted the comments on behalf of TCOG.

TCOG is a nonprofit alliance of media, citizens and good government groups with a sole mission to protect and promote citizen access to government information and public meetings. Its mission rests on the belief that access to government information is crucial in informed citizen participation in society.

What do you think?