Wednesday 17 December 2008

"Does Jack Straw know what constitutes the modern media?" asks Joshua Rozenberg

The Daily Telegraph's legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg raises some very interesting points about the privileged access journalists would be given under plans to open up the family courts to "accredited" media. (see posting below)
He writes: "It is fundamental to the Government’s proposals that the media should be given privileged access to the courts. As a journalist, I naturally welcome this.
"And it must be right to draw a distinction between the press and the public at large. Opening the family courts to everyone would put children and families at risk of being identified and stigmatised. It would not be possible to stop identifying information from being made public.
"But Mr Straw does not seem to have given enough thought to what constitutes the modern media.
"If I decide to write about legal affairs on my own website, am I a freelance journalist who should be allowed access to the courts or a blogger who should not? And who is to decide?
"Mr Straw’s officials pointed out that press seats at criminal trials are allocated by court officials. But those denied such seats can usually attend as members of the public. That option would not be available here.
"Journalism is not a profession, in the sense of an occupation with controlled entry such as law or architecture. Anyone can call himself or herself a journalist. It is therefore essential that the final decision on who may attend the family courts as a journalist is one for the courts themselves, not officials.
"Subject to that concern, Mr Straw’s announcement is to be welcomed. His aim is clearly to increase public confidence in the courts...But his proposals are based on the assumption that there are enough journalists to cover the courts effectively. In these straightened times, this may be a rash assumption to make. Unless, of course, you include the growing band of freelances."
As an ex-Crown Court reporter, I think Joshua Rozenberg is right to stress that the final decision on which journalists be allowed to attend family courts should be up to the courts rather than officials. In my experience court officials tend to see journalists as unwelcome outsiders and often put barriers in their way.

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