Cameras in high court? The battle goes on

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Passage of a bill to require video coverage of the Supreme Court of the United States is an “uphill battle,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told reporters. But “one can always try. It’s sometimes surprising how these things happen,” said Klobuchar.

By J.C. Derrick
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee met today to hear testimony from both sides of the debate over allowing cameras to videotape oral arguments before the country’s highest court.

The hearing in the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts came after Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Monday filed the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011, which would require the U.S. Supreme Court to televise its public proceedings.

The bill has drawn considerable attention since the Court is scheduled to hear three cases challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act early next year. Last month The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to allow cameras in the courtroom, noting that the Court’s decision on health care reform “deeply affects millions of Americans.”

After the hearing, subcommittee chairwoman U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) acknowledged to reporters that passing the bill before March would be an uphill battle, but “one can always try. It’s sometimes surprising how these things happen.”
Klobuchar said while the Affordable Care Act is an important reason for passing the legislation, “We’re very much interested in doing this for the long haul, not just one case.”

Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, started the witness testimony with a strong endorsement of cameras in the Supreme Court.

“I believe the legitimacy of the Court is at stake,” he said. “There have been no good reasons advanced why not to televise the Supreme Court.”

Maureen Mahoney, an attorney at Latham and Watkins in Washington, D.C., who has argued several cases before the high Court, argued vehemently against the measure, which she said would undermine the credibility of the Court by altering the behavior of both lawyers and justices. She read a litany of quotes from past and present U.S. Supreme Court justices in opposition to cameras in the courtroom.

“Congress has always left the Court alone,” Mahoney said, noting that the Supreme Court itself would make the final determination about the bill’s legality, should it become law and be questioned. “The benefits are not worth the constitutional confrontation,” she said. Continue  reading.

Franklin Center Statement on Decline of Investigative Journalism

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Alexandria, VA – Jason Stverak, President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, released the following statement regarding the news that Michael Copps, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, acknowledged that investigative journalism is a dying industry due to newspaper cutbacks.

“There is no denying that the demise of investigative journalism is a problem for more than those who loved reading the latest investigative news pieces. Investigative journalism is the most effective weapon of the press and without it there are fewer watchdogs working to keep our elected officials and bureaucrats accountable. Without the watchful eye of investigative reporters; elected officials and government bureaucrats can operate under a cloud of darkness. Not until legislation is passed or contracts given out, will the public learn of how their tax dollars are being spent and how their lives are impacted.

This expanding void in investigative journalism is now being filled by nonprofit journalism organizations and citizen journalists. They have the capacity to spend time becoming immersed in the story and uncover the details that may be overlooked by the traditional media. These watchdogs are taking over for the old journalism guard— keeping politicians accountable – and making headlines around the nation.

The decline of newspapers doesn’t mean the end of investigative journalism. It only means that new alternatives must arise to fill the void left by traditional media. The future of investigative reporting is bright. The only difference is that the reporter may not have a newsroom desk and be a salaried employee.”

Government has no place in journalism

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

By Jason Stverak
Washington Examiner
Congress’ decision to eliminate funding for National Public Radio is the right one. To put it plainly, the government has no place in the journalism industry and that includes funding any type of media organizations.Those who believe that government support of NPR is essential for its survival and the survival of the media in America should look at the fact that currently, there are hundreds of nonprofit organizations practicing journalism without taxpayer funding. The mere existence of these organizations demonstrates that NPR can survive without government influence.

And not only are these types of organizations thriving in a time when the journalism industry is undeniably struggling, they are producing quality news and winning the respect of readers around the world.

In 2010, the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting was awarded to ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism. Their win showed that nonprofit journalism is producing quality, accurate, informative and trusted pieces of journalism that are changing the way citizens get news.

Let’s also not forget that when Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, government funding was the only option for broadcast news to succeed and produce news for the public’s good. However, that is no longer the case.

Developments in technology have allowed television and broadcast stations to emerge all over the nation, taking the place of the original purpose of NPR. As such, the government does not need to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars annually for a Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Instead of allowing government to exert influence on journalism, NPR and other public broadcasting outlets should be looking to online journalism organizations for the help they need.

Many of these organizations are nonprofit and have proven to produce quality journalism on a range of breaking news topics. And best of all, many of these nonprofit groups are allowing — even encouraging — media outlets to utilize their content for free.

One such organization is Illinois Statehouse News, a nonprofit journalism organization created by the Franklin Center that reports on the daily happenings in the capitol. Since opening its doors in 2009, ISN’s daily content is regularly used by more than 50 Illinois radio stations, 20 daily newspapers and six television stations.

Metro Networks, serving 125 radio stations across Illinois, outsourced its 2010 election coverage to ISN, ensuring its work was heard throughout the state and securing its place as a trusted source of real information.

Just because government can help journalism doesn’t mean that it should. It is time to let NPR take off on its own and see if its content will stand the test of time.

Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Poll Finds Pessimism Among Print and Broadcast Journalists

Monday, April 12th, 2010


Most newspaper and broadcast news editors think American journalism is in decline, and about half believe that their employers will go out of business if they do not find new sources of revenue, according to a survey to be released on Monday.

Among print editors, 18 percent said their papers were actively pursuing the idea of charging readers for access to their Web sites, while 58 percent said it was under consideration. Twenty-three percent said they believed that in three years, such subscription fees would be their primary source of online revenue, having overtaken advertising.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism polled members of two industry groups, the American Society of News Editors and the Radio Television Digital News Association. It received 353 sets of responses to the survey, conducted in December and January.

In addition, 48 percent of the editors who participated said that without a significant new income stream, their organizations could not remain solvent for more than 10 years; 31 percent gave them five years or less.

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Stephen Colbert: Know Your Made-Up District

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The Colbert Report cites Franklin Center data in his new segment “Know Your Made-Up District.” The comedy bit was created after broke the news about’s 440 phantom districts:


Law now is not on bloggers’ side

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Hey, watchdog citizens: Welcome to America’s civic arena of “uninhibited, robust and wide-open ” debate on public issues. Just be careful what you say.

That’s right, self-proclaimed journalists; you wander into a trackless, dangerous swamp.

Within it information democracy growing from the fertile World Wide Web like a radiant flower has some sharp and venomous thorns. They have power to prick and poison free expression instead of enhancing it.

Go ahead; put your words out for all to read. You shall be held accountable not just in the court of public opinion but possibly in a real court, even in jail.

Citizen Media Law Project ’s “Lawsuits involving Blogs” database lists more than 100 cases.

One of those is against 53-year-old grandmother and Realtor Lyndal Harrington who spent three nights behind Texas bars in May for contempt of court in a mere libel suit involving some toss-off celebrity gossip opinion she posted on a Blog.

According to, Harrington said, “I just voiced my opinion. … I got into this because my business had fallen apart in this economy and it was something to do.”

More insidious is the capacity of public officials and powerful special interests to crush dissent through abuse of libel laws.

Consider Butler University administrators suing student Jess Zimmerman for criticizing them, according to Inside Higher Education.

Or Cape Cod blogger Peter Robbins who had the temerity to comment on a dredging project. He got sued. The offending comments disappeared.

If you think that is chilling, freeze on this: The Austin Statesman-American reports Police Chief Art Acevedo claims he has broad subpoena and search powers to investigate what he claims are postings of defamatory comments on public Web forums by people using others’ names.

Apparently protecting his own thin skin is the highest law enforcement priority in Austin.

It ever is thus. God forbid in a free country some grandmother would jump into celebrity gossip, a student would criticize college officials, a citizen comment on a public project or that those we empower to arrest us and use lethal force against us would be subject to our criticism.

Know this, citizen watchdogs: The worst of those from any party or persuasion who hold public power are smart, ruthless and universally deluded that they somehow are entitled to the privileges – legal and otherwise – of office.

They absolutely will abuse all powers of government ferociously to protect their turf and insulate themselves from even the slightest criticism.

You think not? No less an icon of freedom than Thomas Jefferson, while president, sued for libel all the way to the Supreme Court (he lost) and is suspected of being behind state prosecutions of criminal seditious libel.

So, if you choose to publish controversial information – as fact or opinion — impose upon yourself the highest standard not just of professional journalistic ethics, but of personal honesty and conduct: for if you actually happen to get close to serious corruption, you shall be tested.

The best preparation is to follow general ethics and practices of professional journalists. Plenty of information is on the Web, including from the American Society of News Editors and Society of Professional Journalists .

The U.S. Supreme Court allows expression that would get you fired from any newsroom in America. Professional journalists hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in history. Those standards are self-inflicted, but they are much tougher than the law requires.

Fundamentally those standards all boil down to the old city editor’s dictum: Check everything out. If your mother says she loves you, check it out. To which we now add: If she says it in an email, double check it. If she says it on the Web, triple check it.

Even “truth,” supposedly the ultimate shaky defense against defamation claims, does not protect you from the huge expense and life-disrupting impact of a lawsuit. Too often, even if you ultimately win, you lose.

Rest assured, if you actually ever stumble close to real corruption, things will get very ugly. When they do, you are on your own. Everybody backs away.

When a judge says you go to jail, you go directly to jail. When a police officer says you are under arrest, you are immediately in his power.

At that moment, you have no rights. Government power acts instantaneously. Citizen rights engage ever so slowly, if ever at all.

Most importantly if you are going to publish: Learn a little bit about journalism and the law; snuggle up to the ACLU; get some insurance.

Here are more links to help:

Media Law Resource Center

Electronic Frontiers Foundation

Media Bloggers Association

Citizen Media Law Project

The Associated Press Stylebook

Society of Professional Journalists

American Civil Liberties Union

First Amendment Center

World Press Freedom Committee

International Freedom of Expression eXchange

The Thomas Jefferson Center

Free Expression Network

Frank Keegan is the Senior Editor of

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