Cameras in Courts: MN court committee keeps door open to expanded public access to courtrooms

Posted by: on Oct 2, 2013 | No Comments

A court panel leaves open the possibility for a continuation of the current experimental rules allowing limited use of still and video camera access in the state’s courtrooms. A recommendation issued October 1 notes “the committee is not aware of any problems or complaints caused by the use of cameras or audio recording equipment in court proceedings” during a two-year pilot project scheduled to sunset at the end of this year. The court’s General Rules Committee is made up of judges and attorneys from various jurisdictions around the state. Read the full recommendation here. Minnesota Supreme Court justices will make the final decision.

The committee also touched on the possibility of expanding camera access to some criminal proceedings, but such a move will probably require a new round of scrutiny.

The report reflects concern by some members of the panel during their Sept. 20 meeting that they have very little information to go on since there were few media requests to bring cameras into courtrooms. At that meeting, WCCO news producer Joan Gilbertson talked about the difficulty of navigating the sometimes confusing process of the civil cases that organizations were limited to covering during the pilot project. She said the proceedings are readily postponed and often settled before the parties ever enter a courtroom. “I would like to court to step up and present (media organizations) with some cases they want covered,” Gilbertson said. WCCO aired more than a half dozen stories about civil cases during the pilot project highlighting the fact that it was the first time such access was available in Minnesota.

Minnesota is one of 12 states that effectively bar camera use in court proceedings. Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota all allow camera use by media organizations for both civil and criminal court cases.

Minnesota courts to decide the future of courtroom camera access

Posted by: on Sep 23, 2013 | No Comments


After two years of limited camera access to Minnesota district courtrooms, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether to extend, expand or halt the practice of giving greater public access to the judicial process.

This week, the Court’s General Rules Committee will issue a recommendation to reflect the views expressed during their meeting Sept. 20th. This same committee in 2011 voted 16 to 3 against the current pilot project. The Supreme Court justices ultimately rejected that recommendation.

At Friday’s meeting, attorney Mark Anfinson asked for an extension of the current experimental project to allow video and still cameras in courtrooms during civil cases at the judge’s discretion. He also suggested expanding the test to allow cameras during criminal court cases. He cited some two dozen examples of media requests for camera access during the test period with no negative issues arising either from judges or media organizations. WCCO producer Joan Gilbertson presented samples of her organization’s coverage of civil cases.

The members of the committee praised the coverage, but their conclusions of the pilot are mixed.

Hon. Robert Walker, a one-time opponent of allowing cameras in courtrooms, expressed his wish to not let momentum for the current project die. He suggests allowing cameras in additional ‘safe and appropriate’ settings such as the state’s drug and veterans courtrooms.

The Hon. Mel Dickstein said the examples of courtroom coverage presented at the meeting were ‘quite good’. Still, he sees the recent pilot as a ‘lost opportunity’ for the media to tell more stories that arose from civil courtrooms. He said he’s unconvinced that the pilot produced enough compelling evidence that the practice of allowing cameras should continue, much less expand to criminal proceedings.

Don Gemberling on Government Info

Posted by: on Nov 20, 2009 | No Comments

Thanks to Don Gemberling for sending us a series of articles that were originally published on the Pioneer Press:

  • A Price Of Ignorance In Minnesota – State Open-Government Law Loses Strength If Citizens Don’t Know It
  • Sunshine Week – Accountable Government Requires Accessible Information
  • Your Government, Your Information – A Quick Guide To Minnesota’s Open-Government Laws
  • Open Government – Citizen Sunshine
  • Proposed Changes To Data Practices Shelved – More Could Have Been Kept From Public

Read the articles

Play it again, NCMR

Posted by: on Jul 7, 2008 | No Comments

In several conversations during the past few weeks I’ve heard people mention that they wish they’d been able to attend the June 6-8 National Media Reform Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Never mind the Strib reporter and Bill O’Reilly didn’t appreciate the opportunity – in fact, their negative take might have expanded the audience.

Take heart – all of the keynote and other major talks are streamed online. You’ll see and hear Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, author Amy Goodman, political analyst Bill Moyers and a host of other speakers on the NCMR website. There’s also an audio file, transcripts, photos of participants and speakers, and an expanding collection of follow-up reports and developments.

Mourning Coalition of Journalists for Open Government

Posted by: on Jul 4, 2008 | No Comments

As readers in cities around the nation lament the cuts to their local newspaper, their primary source of accurate information and reflection, I am mourning the demise of a related organization, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government. I got to know the CJOG through Sunshine Week activities, a project in which CJOG was a major force. The Coalition also provided a forum for collaboration and communication among the many journalism organizations that stand up for open government, particularly at the federal level.

The work of the CJOG will be picked up by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, headed by Minnesotan Lucy Dalglish, and by the National Freedom of Information Coalition; Sunshine in Government will also continue to post information on federal open government issues. These are good, reliable — but very busy — hands in which to leave an important function.

Needless to say, the reason for closing the virtual doors at CJOG is money. Long ago I learned that people/organizations will pay for goods first, then services, and almost never collaboration. There’s no tangible, visible product, just the payoff of shared responsibility, division of labor, and the powerful impact of collective wisdom. Sometimes those benefits get in the way of other agendas, e.g. obfuscation of facts and empire building.

Thanks to Peter Weitzel for his efforts on behalf of open government and for his continued involvement at the federal level.

National Media Reform Conference Distilled

Posted by: on Jun 30, 2008 | No Comments

The intensity of the National Media Reform Conference held recently in Minneapolis was overwhelming. It’s taken me days to unravel and process the themes of the conference and its countless pre- and post- sessions. The one mainstream media report on the conference, buried in the back pages of the Star Tribune, did the conference a disservice. I can only conclude that Neil Justin and I just attended different sessions, or maybe different conferences.

The sessions in which I participated and the excellent exhibitor representatives, provided context and content to a real movement. This is a surge of energy that has been simmering for decades.

Bill Moyers’ keynote absorbed – and deserved – much of the media attention and garnered scores of ovations. And then there was the terrific exhibit of books sponsored by BirchBark Books, a local independent. The exhibit, offering an impressive selection of related titles, was doing a brisk business every time I ventured past.

One particular observation I have is that participants ranged from teens to people who have been fighting the good right even longer than I have. The session with George Stoney, the “father of public access”, and visionary FCC Commissioner Nicolas Johnson, both from the past century, well documented that fact.

In spite of the information overload I’m proud to have been a participant at this juncture of the media reform movement. Most of all, I’m proud that once again Minnesota played host to a conference devoted to openness, freedom of information, and an informed public.

Same time next year, Minnesota hosts the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Missing Harlan Cleveland

Posted by: on Jun 7, 2008 | No Comments

It’s a sad and sobering irony to reflect on the recent death of Harlan Cleveland mist the energy and hope that reign at the Media Reform Conference going full steam this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center. For decades Harlan Cleveland has been my guiding star in a turbulent information era.

Twenty-five years ago I was involved with a conference bearing the irresistible title “A Question of Balance: Public Sector, Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The conference was a typically Minnesotan response to a report from the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science — from whence we derived the catchy subtle. With prescient naiveté we gathered journalists, media moguls, access advocates and gangs of librarians for two days of weighing the issues raised in the report, a report that one speaker accurately described as “pernicious.”

[The gathering was not without its lively moments – most notably the spectacle of Paul Zurkowski, head of the Information Industry Association, storming down the aisle, pointing his cane as he snarled “Poppycock! at the elegant visionary Anita Schiller.]

The keynote speaker at that event – and my all-time Information Hero – was Harlan Cleveland. He spoke, as he frequently wrote, about the characteristics of information “as a resource, “the basic, yet abstract information.” Cleveland lamented that “we have carried over into our thinking about information (which is to say symbols) concepts development for the management of things – concepts such as property, depletion, depreciation, monopoly, market economics, the class struggle, and top-down leadership.” It might help, he opined, “if we stop treating information as just another thing, and look hard at what makes it so special.”

In Cleveland’s 21st Century construct, information as a resource possesses these unique characteristics:

Information is expandable – “The facts are never all in – and facts are available in such profusion that uncertainty becomes the most important planning factor.” Thus, “the further a society moves toward making its living from the manipulation of information, the more its citizens will be caught up in a continual struggle to reduce the information overload on their desks and in the lives in order to reduce the uncertainty about what to do.”

Information is compressible — “Though it’s infinitely expandable, information can be concentrated, integrated, summarized… for easy handling.”

Information is substitutable — It can replace capital, labor or physical materials.

Information is transportable — “In less than a century, we have been witness to a major dimensional change in both the speed and volume of human activity.”

Information is diffusive — It tends to leak – and the more it leaks the more we have.

Information is shareable — Information by nature cannot give rise to exchange transactions, only to sharing transactions. Things are exchanged. “If I give you a fact or tell you a story, it’s like a good kiss: in sharing the thrill, you enhance it.”

Cleveland would relish the exuberant exchanges echoing through the Minneapolis Convention Center this weekend — snippets of conversations involving 3000 reform advocates talking about knowledge, wisdom, informed citizens and their role in a democracy, transparency in government, media ownership, network neutrality. Many of these attendees may not know the name Harland Cleveland, but they understand – intuitively and empirically — that information is a resource that is expandable, compressible, substitutable, transportable, diffusive and, most important, shareable — like a kiss!

Note: One of the earliest iterations of Cleveland’s thoughts on information as a resource is found in the December 1982 issue of The Futurist. Check the site for much more about Harlan Cleveland’s life as well as numerous articles written by Cleveland through the years.


Minnesota Monitor – NKOTB

Posted by: on May 28, 2008 | No Comments

James Sanna’s great piece about Minnesota Monitor (The New(ish) Kid on the Block 5-26-08) is making its way through the media maze — and with good reason. Sanna describes the origins, mission and staff of MM with clarity. He goes on to analyze the context, including MM’s “sibling” enterprises linked through the Center for Independent Media network of news websites.

It’s a good story and a great introduction to the forthcoming National Conference on Media Reform, sponsored by Free Press and coming to Minneapolis June 6-8. “Key issues include net neutrality, media consolidation, the future of the internet and the quality of journalism.”

A Couple of Great Blogs

Posted by: on May 27, 2008 | No Comments

No longer is it a question of getting home in time for a favorite TV show – there’s little to watch and, if it’s really good, it’ll be on YouTube. Of late, though, I’ve found myself wanting to be near the computer mid-day, anticipating two of my favorite “you’ve got mail” beeps.

One is MinnPost, always loaded with the day’s news and views. The other is the beep from State Sunshine and Open Records, a product of the Lucy Burns Institute, a Madison, Wisconsin nonprofit dedicated to sharing information, guidance, practical advice, legal developments and news about open records at the state and local level. The voice is that of Leslie Graves.
This blog is fresh, full of snippets, tidbits, tips, foi-ish gossip, and fun! Take, for example, the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award. Or consider a recent blog devoted to the access challenges at the school system level. Or check out this best use of FOIA entry. It’ll give you the flavor.
Signing up for the email version will give you that healthy mid-day boost of energy to press on, knowing that the good fight is not without good people, good information and good humor.

Bill Moyers’ Journal

Posted by: on May 26, 2008 | No Comments

The trail of information – from creation through processing through application — is always a path forged by real people, people who do the research, who organize the results, who select and review, who dig and piece together and create then share information that – finally – makes a difference.

Bill Moyers most recent Journal, aired last Friday, offers one of the best articulations of that process I have ever seen. The topic the chemical Bisphenol A, but it’s the process that captivated my attention.

Stars of the show are a trio of investigative journalists on the staff of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Prodded by an appropriately pushy editor they set out to track the story of Bisphenol A. Their laborious investigation involves federal government deadends, hours in the stacks of the University of Wisconsin library and the keen analytic minds of concerned journalists.

The interim result is a remarkable series on “Chemical Fallout” that exposes the facts. On May 20, 2008 a reform bill was introduced – in spite of government blockage and the compromise of corporate and professional organizations along the way.

The reporting team who broke the story are taking viewer questions about the story and their work as investigative reporters on The Moyers Blog. Check out the video and the text on the Bill Moyers Journal. This is just how it’s supposed to work!