Journalists, attorneys oppose change restricting cameras in Utah courts
He said he doesn't want to broadcast lurid details about people's private lives but wants to show Utahns exactly what they can expect from various hearings. He contends that he merely strives to disseminate the information for the public's benefit and does not use the channel to advertise his own services.
He disagrees that such hearings are especially sensitive.
"There are those people who are deathly afraid that if (a hearing) is featured on electronic news media that it's somehow going to lay their lives bare," Eric Johnson said. "I would encourage someone to go to family law proceedings for a day. There's very little in the way of lurid, sensational stuff. It pops up in these situations no more so than rape cases or kidnappings or burglaries to prostitution. There's plenty sensational, lurid stuff to go around, so family law is not in a class all its own. To claim that it's so special and so unique isn't borne out by the facts."
He said he has sometimes asked those involved in the hearings if he can film, which, he notes, is not required under the rule. Even with their permission, his requests have been denied. The denials come for myriad reasons, including that he is not considered a journalist by judges.
The revised rule eliminates language that defines a journalist as anyone who gathers, reports, records or publishes information to the public and narrows it to those who disseminate news. It reads that a judge may still allow electronic media coverage in cases where the documents are classified as private if the predominant purpose of the recording is journalism or "dissemination of news to the public."
"They changed the rule because of me," Eric Johnson said, pointing to the timing of his requests and the timing of the rule change. "Did they change the rule purely because of me and my efforts? I'm not sure. There are one or two other requests that might have surfaced, but I'm the only person who ever wanted to cover domestic relations cases."
Regardless, Brent Johnson said the amendment is one that "made sense" to the members of the judicial council, prompting its immediate implementation. In most cases, a judge has to justify a closure, but because the burden now shifts to the requestor to argue for openness in domestic law cases, a second request form will be used for those hoping to record such cases.
The rule is open to revision following a comment period that runs through June 24. The Utah Headliners chapter of Society of Professional Journalists issued a news release urging its members and the public to oppose the change by submitting a comment to the court about the rule.
"The closure of family court to the video camera rule is a dangerous precedent which could lead to further erosion of transparency," said Sheryl Worsley, who is president of the journalists society chapter and news director at KSL Newsradio.
"Courts are open and this move restricts access of citizens who have a right to know what is going on in a court of law."
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