NEFAC Opposes Media Registration, Limits on Public Camera Use in Vermont Courtrooms

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently expressed concern over proposed rules that would limit the public’s ability to record Vermont judicial proceedings and require journalists to register with the state before using cameras in courtrooms.

“In summary, we believe these changes are unnecessary as state courts already have adequate tools at their disposal to protect the privacy interests of witnesses and jurors,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a Jan. 14 letter. Publisher Todd Smith, a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors, also signed the letter on behalf of the Caledonian Record.

Vermont is considering changes to Rule 79.2 of the Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 35 of the Vermont Rules of Appellate Procedure and the media registration requirements outlined in Administrative Order No. 46. These new rules would significantly affect media presence in Vermont courtrooms and the public’s ability to use cameras in the courts.

Of particular concern, according to the letter, is the media registration process which would require journalists to obtain court approval prior to using cameras in the courtroom. Under the proposed rules, media is defined as “any individual or organization engaging news gathering or reporting to the public.”

“Registration requirements for journalists are a dangerous proposition,” Silverman and Smith explained. “They resemble mandatory licensing schemes and unconstitutional attempts by the government to control the independent press.”

“While the registration process proposed in Order No. 46 may be a distant cousin to required licensing, the concerns of both are still closely related,” they added. “Like with licensing, a government entity is responsible for administering the registration, a process that can be easily abused and utilized to discourage certain reporting in violation of the First Amendment.”

NEFAC’s comments are one of many ways the coalition is defending the First Amendment and the public’s right to know in Vermont. Most recently, the coalition condemned censorship at Burlington High School and then worked with the district on a new student journalism policy; testified in support of legislation that would broaden the state’s public records law; and educated communities about the value of the First Amendment and journalism.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.