Editorial: Live, from court it’s . . .


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This gives new meaning to the old news term, “This just in.”
The media won a big one last week getting permission to report live news stories from inside the courtroom during the bribery trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien.
That means news outlets are able to provide immediate coverage of the proceeding via things like instant messaging service Twitter and/or live blogging.

And it doesn’t apply only to journalists; anyone with a portable electronic device can tap a message or story in and send it off to the Internet without moving from the cheap seats to the corridor to do it.

It isn’t a “first in Canada” since The London Free Press has been tweeting for weeks from the first-degree murder trial of six Bandidos bikers, but this is still an important decision for media.

“It’s a powerful precedent,” said one of the media lawyers, Richard Dearden, of the decision made by our hero-of-the-week Superior Court Justice J. Douglas Cunningham, who is also the court’s associate chief justice.

“This is the world in which we live,” said Cunningham, agreeing with the media that courts have to go with the flow and adapt to new technology.

But while the Ottawa Citizen, Canwest News Service, and Global TV succeeded in convincing Cunningham to allow their reporters to blog and tweet from the courtroom, the CBC failed to get permission to stream a live video feed of the trial to its web site.

The judge said that while allowing the instant messages is a “novel” reporting procedure he would allow in his court for this particular case, bringing in cameras would be “changing dramatically” the way trials proceed and thus such a bid would need weeks, if not months, of hearings.

He said that would disrupt the start of O’Brien’s trail prejudicing his rights, and noted the application was only filed the prior week, which was “woefully late.”

The camera debate is for another day as we revel in Cunningham’s enlightened decision that should blast a gust of fresh air through other courts in the province.

Meanwhile, photography is still banned within courthouses, and laws governing contempt of court, libel, and publication bans apply.

As long as the rules are followed and nobody infringes upon fair trial rights, it’s a neat way for the general public to be exposed to our court system via new media platforms with no bearing on how justice is served. And, given that so many will be following, it’s not hard to imagine if an errant tweet treads over the legal line someone in the ether will call them out.

The only downside is pity the poor reporters who these days have to juggle the old notebook and pen, but also a tape recorder and video camera for scrums, hand-held communication devices, cymbals between their knees . . .

And so, for those with a hankering to know what’s going on around here, follow Law Times on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lawtimes.
- Gretchen Drummie

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