Voluntary guidelines to assure an accused the right to a fair trial in Nebraska and to protect the public’s right to know have been revised and renamed.
The revised Nebraska Court Coverage Guidelines for Judges, Attorneys and Journalists were unveiled June 2, 2020, by the Bench Media Committee of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation. It is the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the original Nebraska Bar-Press Guidelines, written by a volunteer committee of attorneys and journalists.
“This 2020 revision has the same objectives, but addresses changes in news gathering techniques and media platforms not available 50 years ago,” according to a preamble to the new guidelines. “These guidelines are a cooperative effort involving the judiciary, court staff, news media, and lawyers. In that spirit, all parties are encouraged to communicate with one another when issues, disagreements, or questions arise.”
The guidelines recognize the need for continued joint efforts, and the authors commit themselves to resolve future differences that may arise “in their mutual objective of assuring to all Americans both the correlative constitutional rights to freedom of speech and media and to a fair trial.”
The revised guidelines can be found in the media section of the Nebraska Supreme Court website at https://supremecourt.nebraska.
“The revised guidelines continue the strong, cooperative tradition that judges, attorneys and media representatives in Nebraska have enjoyed for decades,” Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Funke said. The revised guidelines are a testament to the forward-thinking Nebraskans who authored the original guidelines 50 years ago, he added.
“We are indebted to these volunteers for their wisdom, foresight, mutual respect and respect for the Constitution,” Funke said. “The original guidelines have stood the test of time and have served the state well. The revisions recently made will carry us forward for years to come.”
The revised guidelines include an expanded preamble that mentions social media and encourages news organizations to consider their own standards and code of ethics. The revised guidelines also include a more detailed section on news coverage of pretrial proceedings and the pretrial reporting of prior legal proceedings concerning the same facts and parties. The guidelines discourage reporting that would taint a jury pool and make it difficult to get a fair trial. The guidelines also discourage the reporting of prior criminal records, particularly close to trial.
“While these revised guidelines are voluntary, we hope news organizations use them as a starting point as they determine how court cases are covered,” said Rose Ann Shannon, retired news director at KETV in Omaha and a member of the Bench Media Committee that undertook the revision task. “We hope the revised guidelines spark discussion within Nebraska newsrooms. We encourage attorneys, judges and news reporters to reach out to one another when questions arise.”
According to the preamble, the revised guidelines “are designed to ensure the First Amendment rights of the media and the public’s right to know, while protecting the right of an accused to a fair trial.” The preamble points out that while the guidelines are voluntary, they are to be used as “a filter to determine how a court story is covered and reported.”
“It is impossible for this document to address every issue that may arise during the coverage of judicial proceedings. Attorneys and judges should be aware of the guidelines when working with the media to support consistent access to, and dissemination of, information to the public and the media,” the preamble states.
Nebraska State Bar Foundation President Steven E. Guenzel emphasized the task of revising the historic guidelines was undertaken by volunteer judges, attorneys and media professionals. “The cooperative spirit of this ad hoc committee made it possible for the revisions to be made,” he said.