A pilot program that began on Dec. 1 permits news media to broadcast in-person proceedings as well as rebroadcast livestream proceedings in courtrooms in five counties, including Allen. It is a welcome experiment at a time when public trust in our democratic institutions continues to erode. This is particularly important for the judiciary as public understanding of law and justice is too often shaped by pop culture, sound bites, show trials and myths.
Allen County Superior Court Judge Fran Gull was tapped to participate in the program along with judges in Delaware, Lake, Tippecanoe and Vanderburgh counties. As a noted no-nonsense jurist, Gull's selection should be read as a signal of the seriousness of the state Supreme Court's advancement of media accessibility and, by extension, public understanding.
This won't be a free-for-all. All civil and criminal proceedings are eligible for broadcast, except for proceedings closed to the public by state statute or Indiana Supreme Court rules. Media wishing to broadcast must request permission in writing at least 48 hours in advance of the trial's start.
Trial judges have the discretion to approve or deny a request to broadcast a court proceeding. They can also interrupt or stop coverage if they deem it to be appropriate.
“The judge also has the discretion to limit or terminate broadcast at any time during the proceedings if the judge determines that the pilot rules have been violated by the news media,” according to the rules set by the high court. “The judge's decision to approve, deny, limit or terminate broadcast is not appealable.”
The court also provided an extensive list of proceedings, people and documents that are off limits to recording, including police informants, undercover agents, minors, victims of sex-related offenses, and jurors and jury selection. Mental health commitments and protection order hearings are also forbidden from recording.
The pilot project follows discussions initiated by the Community Relations Committee and the Court Security Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana, in conjunction with the Hoosier State Press Association and the Indiana Broadcasters Association. The project will last four months unless extended or terminated at the Indiana Supreme Court's discretion.
“The IBA has been most concerned about transparency in the judicial process,” said David Arland, executive director of the Indiana Broadcasters Association. “We're encouraged that leadership – after years of prodding – is giving this a try.”
This isn't Indiana's first attempt at broadcasting proceedings.
In 1997, the Indiana Supreme Court authorized a project for video and audio coverage in certain courtrooms. The project ended in 2007 with fewer than 10 test cases. In 2012, the court allowed for a limited period the Times of Northwest Indiana to webcast from three trial courtrooms. That experiment failed after many exemptions.
However, Arland believes a combination of public interest and the ubiquity of cameras and screens in everyday life, particularly during the pandemic, ought to encourage broadcasting of court proceedings as a permanent fixture.
And while there may be some bumps during this experiment, a deeper public understanding of our judicial system should be well worth the tradeoff.