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RI Judiciary working to update its 31-year-old media policy

December 17, 2012
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The Rhode Island Judiciary is working to overhaul a media policy last updated in 1981 — when manual typewriters remained in widespread use.

As it stands, trial justices have some latitude on the technology that reporters can and can’t use in their individual courtrooms.

Yet there’s a disconnect between how the Judiciary is on Twitter and how reporters were barred from barred from tweeting and using laptops during a recent nationally publicized Superior Court hearing on a union challenge to last year’s pension overhaul.

Prior to that session, a sheriff in Judge Sarah Taft-Carter’s court room politely — but firmly — warned reporters their smart phones would be confiscated if they were visible during the hearing.

Court spokesman Craig Berke says he has shared some ideas for modernizing the Jucidiary’s media rules with the heads of different courts and their administrators; he expects to get their feedback before the end of December. Reporters from different news organizations will then be brought in to offer their thoughts, before a new policy is made official, Berke says.

While Twitter, blogging, and laptop computers may be welcome in court (at least partially) as part of the new policy, cell phone cameras remain a bone of contention because of their ability to take photos inconspicuously, Berke says.

Courts in Connecticut and Massachusetts have updated their media policies in recent years. “It’s time to modernize the rules,” Berke says, and to do it in such a way that they hold up for more than the next change in the media landscape.

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