U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

A hearing of national significance, a Texas judge, and a hush request

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Published On
March 30, 2023
A graph showing a snapshot of press freedom violations as documented by the Tracker so far this year

A snapshot of press freedom violations documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker so far this year.

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Q: When is a closed courtroom not a closed courtroom?

A: When it’s a “courtesy request,” apparently. During a March 10 conference call, a U.S. District Court judge in Texas asked attorneys involved in a high-stakes and highly controversial abortion pill access case for the courtesy of not sharing information about an upcoming hearing. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk also said during the call he was delaying putting the hearing on the docket, or public schedule, until the evening before it was to take place in Amarillo.

The Washington Post, which first reported the details of the call, joined a coalition of media outlets and press freedom advocates to file a letter objecting to the delay.

“The Court’s attempt to delay notice of and, therefore, limit the ability of members of the public, including the press, to attend Wednesday’s hearing is unconstitutional, and undermines the important values served by public access to judicial proceedings and court records,” the letter read. “The Court cannot constitutionally close the courtroom indirectly when it cannot constitutionally close the courtroom directly.”

Within hours of the letter being sent, the hearing was placed on the docket.

No large protests materialized around the March 15 hearing, and Kacsmaryk has yet to issue a ruling. But reproductive rights matters have historically sparked public reaction. Journalists, naturally, cover it. Last summer, for example, eight journalists were detained while covering protests across the U.S. that followed the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Nine journalists were assaulted.

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Find all reproductive rights-related press freedom incidents in the Tracker with the tag “reproductive rights

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

The Madness of March

For those whose college basketball brackets still have a fighting chance, I salute you. For the university student journalists covering sports garnering national attention and prime time billings, I also salute you.

The Tracker spoke this month with Jack Weaver, photojournalist for the University of Kentucky’s student publication, the Kernel, after he endured a very public reaction from a public figure following Arkansas’ unexpected loss to Texas A&M in the men’s SEC Tournament.

Weaver had just begun filming Arkansas leaving the court, he said, when a university staff member grabbed the phone out of his hand and threw it.

“I was wearing my press credentials, I had my camera around my neck and I was standing completely to the side by the rail with plenty of room to move there,” Weaver said.

The staff member called him to apologize, and Weaver told us that he was physically fine, as was his phone. “But still, nonetheless, you can’t do that,” he said. “And I think people kind of understand that that’s not acceptable.”

Find more on student journalists in the Tracker with the tag “student journalism”.