AHCJ signs letter with press freedom group, urging access to court audio recordings



Photo by Karen Neoh via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Association of Health Care Journalists has joined with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, PEN America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other media and open-government organizations to advocate for remote public audio access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings, including those in which a witness is testifying.

The 33 organizations sent a joint letter in response to the anticipated ending in late September of a temporary broadcasting exception — initiated in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began — for civil and bankruptcy court proceedings held in federal courts. 

News reports say that the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management will recommend that the Judicial Conference continue to authorize remote public audio access to civil and bankruptcy proceedings in which a witness is not testifying. But in the letter sent to Judicial Conference Secretary Roslynn Mauskopf, the groups asked to take it one step further.

“We urge the Conference to authorize district courts to permit remote public audio access to all civil and bankruptcy proceedings, including those with witness testimony,” the letter stated. “The public and the judicial system benefit tremendously from remote public audio access to proceedings with witness testimony, and it is possible to provide this access without compromising the integrity of proceedings or the courts’ work.”

Allowing remote public audio access will benefit health care journalists who are covering civil health care cases or cases involving bankruptcies of large health care organizations. 

The letter came out of a new coalition, known as the Press Freedom Policy Working Group, that AHCJ joined in August to support work on free press issues. The group will discuss and advocate for issues that AHCJ’s Right to Know (RTK) Committee has long pursued, including improved access to public officials and public meetings, and committee members are excited to be teaming up with other organizations on these issues.

“We look forward to collaborating with other well-respected journalism organizations on issues of mutual interest,” said RTK Committee co-chair Sabriya Rice. “This effort is a great example of how the RTK Committee and AHCJ continue to make sure the voices of our members are amplified.” 

AHCJ President Felice Freyer and RTK Committee co-chair Joyce Frieden attended the working group’s inaugural meeting, which was held on Aug. 10. Group members were encouraged to circulate any petitions they create related to press freedom, so the group can build strength in numbers.

Meetings will occur monthly, and AHCJ members with possible topics for the working group are encouraged to email Frieden with any suggestions.  

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