I’ve just read a very interesting article thanks to Journalismnews on Twitter. Even though I’ve worked in the courts on a pretty much daily basis for the past couple of years, the issue of whether or not blogging or Twitter updates should be allowed of court proceedings had never really occured to me. Here in Ireland electronic news disemination is somewhat slow to catch on – probably a lot due to pitiful state of broadband in this country.
Twitter is still very much a niche site here and while several media organisations such as RTE, the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner have news feeds, these tend to be pretty much a clone of the kind of copy they’ve been providing for years for mobile phones, rather than using any of Twitter’s unique functionality. I’m not saying no one’s aware of it, just that it’s not really that much in the public consciousness here…and if it hasn’t reached the public counsciousness in any meaningful way then it definately hasn’t ruffled any feathers in the Irish Courts.
For the subject of real time blogging and tweeting of court proceedings to raise consternation in the courts here there would have to be more understanding of the realities of social networking by the barristers who raise these kinds of issues. Even though more and more trials include evidence of emails and text messages as part of the prosecution case it’s still not unusual to hear email accounts described as web pages and other hints at a deeper incomprehension of the technology being described.
I’m sure there are many techologically literate barristers out there but there are still those that seem to view the advent of Web 2.0 as something in the realm of alchemy or plain straight forward magic. Granted it’s now common practice for the judge to warn the jury not to check the internet when he’s warning them about the dangers of slanted media reports during the trial but thankfully no one has yet raised the issue of live reports on blogs and on Twitter being an even greater threat to the jury’s umblemished objectivity.
To be honest though, even if such concerns were raised I think an Irish judge would rule in the same way as their Colorado counterpart in the article I mentioned and allow the trial to be reported in this way. There may be no photography allowed in the confines of an Irish court and television cameras and recording equipment may be banned but the journalists who take their places in the hard wooden benches all have their laptops available.
The broadcast reporters frequently file text to their newsrooms using mobile broadband from the courtroom itself – I’ve done so myself in high profile cases when deadlines were looming. There are some judges who don’t like seeing the laptops out but then there are some judges who don’t like seeing journalists reading a newspaper when proceedings are dragging a bit.
While there may not be any dedicated online journalists sitting in court, the story will be published on various breaking news websites within minutes of it being received. I suppose technically since broadcasting or recording isn’t allowed from the courtroom during proceedings then the issue of whether or not material should be published online could well be one that may arise at some time in the future. Certainly there have been occassions when reporters have clashed with security within the courts over bringing in microphones, even though they weren’t live.
It’s an interesting area and one that will have to be addressed one day. But for the moment the men and women who have the power to make such decisions tend to come from a generation that never had to worry about these issues and are slow to embrace the relentless march of technology. For that matter, there are still a lot of Irish journalists who don’t really stray beyond Google and Facebook.
It’s probably going to be a while before there’ll be real-time blogging or tweeting coming out of the Irish courts. Most journalists have their hands full keeping up with proceedings and filing for hourly bulletins or tight print deadlines without posting rolling updates. There would probably need to be a dedicated blogger sent down if that was to be acheived and in the current climate of cut backs and economies it’s unlikely they’d spare an extra body (already having someone to do news and someone else to write colour in the case of a high profile trial).
Mind you, if we keep having the kind of blockbuster trials that have become a regular occurance since wife killer, Joe O’Reilly turned out to be such a draw, who knows. Maybe an Irish judge will have to rule on whether Twitter should be allowed into the courtroom, far sooner than I for one expect.