Coalition of Twenty Major Media Organizations Ask Manning Judge To Provide Court Access to Public Stenographer

Coalition of Twenty Major Media Organizations Ask Manning Judge To Provide Court Access to Public Stenographer
June 3, 2013

UPDATE: We've recieved word that the judge has ruled that the professional court stenographer CAN transcribe the trial from the media room using a stenography machine. This is great news. However, we are still without press passes, and the military media desk has yet to respond to our request to issue them to the stenographers. If you are a media organization that is not going to use your press pass tomorrow, please contact us. They are transferable. Since we published, Bloomberg News, Newsweek, New York Magazine, and Reporters Without Borders have joined our coalition.

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Today, a coalition of more than twenty major media organizations—including the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Fox News, and the New Yorker—wrote a letter to the US military court urgently requesting two additional press passes for professional court stenographers so they can provide the public with accurate transcripts of the trial of Bradley Manning.

The government has refused to release transcripts of the Manning court proceedings and has denied 280 out of the 350 media organizations that applied for a press pass. Without a transcript or a press pass, these media organizations have no way of accurately covering the trial. In response, Freedom of the Press Foundation has spent the last month crowd-sourcing donations to fund a team of stenographers to sit in the media room and transcribe the trial for the press and public. Three of our media partners—the Guardian, Forbes, and the Verge—applied for press passes on our behalf, but were denied an additional seat as well.

The coalition's letter asks the military to reconsider its decision and issue two additional press passes so that the court stenographers can transcribe the trial for the press and the public. The transcripts will be posted online less than 12 hours after each day's proceedings.

At least for today, the opening day of the trial, one of the crowd-funded stenographers was granted access to the media room because Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning Support Network was gracious enough to lend us his media credentials. This is only a temporary solution though. Do to the grueling nature of the job, ultimately we would need two stenographers to get in so they can do a morning shift and an afternoon shift. And Nathan will need his press pass for himself in the near future. So this letter is very important in making sure the press and public will continue to have access to transcripts of the trial.

You can read the full letter in PDF version here or view the text of the letter below.

Note: The Center for Constitutional Rights has a pending lawsuit in civilian court arguing the First Amendment requires the public be given access to government-produced transcripts of the trial and all unclassified court documents in a timely manner. We strongly agree and many of the members of this coaltion has signed onto an amicus brief in support as well. Unfortunately, this case won't be resolved for at least a month, so getting the crowd-funded stenographers access to the media room is incredibly important until the court rules in CCR's favor. 

To the Honorable Colonel Denise Lind and Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington,

We, the undersigned news organizations, respectfully request the Military District of Washington (MDW) media desk issue two press passes to allow professional court stenographers access to the media room so they can transcribe the public portions of the court martial of Bradley Manning. 

Over 350 news organizations requested credentials to cover the court martial.  On Thursday, the MDW media desk issued credentials to just 70 news organizations, leaving more than 280 of our colleagues unable to cover the trial and serve the public interest. 

Public and press access to court proceedings is a hallmark of democracy in the United States. In an unusual move, the government has not provided the press with copies of transcripts or court rulings of the pre-trial portions of the Manning case, and we are concerned that this lack of access to the court proceedings will continue during the upcoming trial. 

In an attempt to serve the public’s right to know, more than 1,000 citizens have donated more than $58,000 to Freedom of the Press Foundation to fund stenographers to sit in the media room to transcribe the unclassified portions of the trial. These transcripts will be identified as “unofficial,” and will be available to both the press and general public.  

The stenographers would serve a similar function as a pool sketch artist, allowing the public a window into a trial of newsworthy significance.

Three media organizations—Forbes, the Guardian, and the Verge—each applied for an extra slot for media credentials so that a court stenographer could attend along with their reporters. The applications for additional slots were denied.

Broadcasting the trial in an appropriately-sized overflow theater would allow every organization that applied for a press pass to cover the proceedings. At the minimum, we urge you to issue two additional press passes in order to allow the court stenographers to attend.

If they are denied, over 280 of our colleagues who applied for credentials will not be able to report on the trial, and the public, which is closely watching this case, will be less able to understand the process and decisions made by this court.   

Sincerely,

Freedom of the Press Foundation
Atlantic Media, Inc.
Belo Corporation
Bloomberg News
Boing Boing
Courthouse News
Forbes Inc.
Fox News Network LLC
The Guardian
The Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
The McClatchy Company
The New Yorker
New York Magazine
The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company
NPR, Inc.
The Online News Association
POLITICO LLC
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders
The Verge
Wired