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June 17, 2024

State Actor Determining Which Media Has Access To Courtrooms –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On April 23, 2023

McLean Co., Ill. (ECWd) –

As we have done in the past, when court cases we are interested in reporting on pop up, we ask for Extended Media Coverage, or “Cameras in the Courtroom,” according to the Illinois Supreme Court Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois.

Generally, the court-appointed “Media Coordinator” is an employee of local news media, be it newspaper or television, and that Media Coordinator is responsible for petitioning the court for Extended Media Coverage of trials in which media organizations are interested in covering. The role of the coordinator is to simply file a Motion with the presiding Judge and to notify all parties in the case. Each party to the case can object to the Motion, but the presiding Judge has the final say.

These requests should either be approved or denied in their entirety – meaning, either cameras are permitted, or they are prohibited. It should never matter which media or reporter requested access.

This appears to work fine in every county except for McLean County, where the appointed Media Coordinator, Ryan Denham, is an employee of Illinois State University’s media station, WGLT. Denham, in our opinion, has developed some sort of rules for determining who is or is not media and is subjecting all but “traditional” or “mainstream” media to multiple questions, resulting in unwarranted denials by him.

ECWd, as an organization, have been granted Extended Media Coverage in every Circuit Court we have petitioned for such access without question, except for McLean County, where we had to appeal the decision.

In McLean County we were denied by Denham citing that he “doesn’t think we are similar enough to credentialed media to warrant credentials of your own” and that “They are, generally, legacy media outlets with longer histories of operating in our county and abiding by courthouse rules.” If those are the standards, then nobody except local, traditional media could ever obtain access. All of the many other credentials issued to us, including White House Press Pool, Illinois Secretary of State, and other Circuit Courts were obviously never taken into account.

We hired an attorney who did a wonderful job getting the question in front of the Chief Judge, who decided to grant our media credentials to participate in Extended Media Coverage in McLean County. See our appeal and the Court’s response. These things should not be that difficult.

About two weeks ago, we were made aware of another denial in McLean County for a local reporter who has authored his own content since at least February of 2019, on Mclean County and Central Illinois, and National news and describes his news website as “Local, independent, Leftist journalism.” He focuses on policing, incarceration, and criminal justice. He was subjected to virtually the same questions, with the same excuses for denying him media credentials to the McLean County Courthouse. He should have been granted credentials but is now forced to appeal the denial which may be financially costly.

Last week, in Champaign County, the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s office objected to a specific reporter’s request for Extended Media coverage and claimed the news website was not news and the person was not a journalist, and therefore he should be denied. We suggest the SA’s office read the definition of “news media” in the various state statutes and case law where they would find his website certainly conforms to the very definition of news media. We suspect the objection was more to the fact he is currently in litigation against Champaign County under the Freedom of Information Act than anything else. Either he should be granted credentials, or every other organization should be denied.

The government and government actors should never get to decide what is or is not news, nor who is or is not capable of producing such news. It is a disservice to the public.

We suggest McLean County Circuit Court either establish written rules with any mandatory qualifications spelled out or appoint a different Media Coordinator.


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1 Comment
  • Nancy Drew
    Posted at 19:05h, 25 April Reply


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