Jun 11, 2015

Tweeting Penalty Has Bad Character

An Arkansas judge has found the managing editor of a television station in contempt for tweeting the verdict in a murder case, despite explicit instructions from the judge not to do so. But the "punishment" imposed by the judge may create new problems.

As reported by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Larry Henry of KFSM-TV pleaded guilty to contempt after tweeting the murder verdict from the courtroom immediately after it was announced.

He did this despite the judge's order earlier in the case that all cellphones, cameras and recording devices be turned off in the courtroom, and that texting and tweeting were not permitted.

While I have argued that journalists and other trial observers should be able to use electronic devices in court, as long as it is not disruptive. But once a judge issues such an order, it should be obeyed. Any media that wants to use such devices should make a request to the judge, either personally or through its attorneys.

According to the Democrat-Gazette, the judge and bailiff agreed that Henry's penalty should be for the station to air a story during the station's news program promoting child safety by July 10.

It is unclear whether Henry or the station has agreed to this. But even the suggestion is problematic, since the judge would effectively being dictating some of the station's news content. Even if increasing awareness of child safety through a news story is a good cause, the station should make the decision to air such a story on its own, not at the direction of a judge.


Eric P. Robinson said...

In an editorial, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette echos my concerns about the judge's order.

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