- Published On
- March 30, 2023
- Written by
- Kirstin McCudden from Freedom of the Press Foundation
Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:
Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States. Find archived editions here, and get this newsletter direct in your inbox by signing up here.
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.
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”.