Crowd-funded Stenographers Denied Press Passes to the Bradley Manning Court Martial

Crowd-funded Stenographers Denied Press Passes to the Bradley Manning Court Martial
June 1, 2013

About a month ago, Freedom of the Press Foundation launched a campaign to crowd-fund a court stenographer to provide transcripts of the unclassified portions of the Bradley Manning court martial, given that the military refuses to release transcripts of their own. On Thursday, we learned that all three of our media partners – the Guardian, the Verge, and Forbes – were denied the media passes they requested in order to allow court stenographers to accompany their reporters into the media tent. Each organization asked for a press pass for their reporter and a second press pass for a stenographer to accompany their reporter.  Each was issued only one press pass.

The Army received over 350 media applications for the trial, but only granted 70 to be present in the media room.  In an emailed statement, the MDW Media Desk stated: “Your understanding of our space limitations based on building fire codes is greatly appreciated.”

In previous hearings, the Army has opened a public overflow theater with live audio and video streaming of the hearing. Additionally, the Army has sole discretion over which room(s) to designate as media rooms – including how many rooms to make available.

Freedom of the Press Foundation is working with a reputable court stenographer firm that has a team of stenographers based in Maryland.  Provided the stenographers are let in, this team of stenographers will work in shifts, with a morning stenographer overlapping slightly with an afternoon stenographer.  We have raised over $57,000 from over 1,000 individual donors.  We estimate the total costs for coverage of the entire trail will be between $60,000 and $120,000, depending on how long the trial runs and what portions are closed to the public. You can donate to this effort here.

The stenographer will serve a similar function as a pool sketch artist, giving the more than 280 media organizations that were denied press passes a way to report on the trial.

What we’re doing next – and how you can help

Media organizations are sending a joint letter to Army officials requesting an additional two press passes for the court stenographers, so that the stenographer can serve this vital public function. If you are with a media organization and would like to add your name to our letter, please email trevor@pressfreedomfoundation.org

We really need your help to ensure court stenographers make it in. According to the court, organizations can use their press pass how they see fit. If you have received a press pass and would like to lend it to us (even for part of the trial), please let us know.  We are particularly interested in getting in during the first week, which is going to be a particular challenge. Rememeber, this will benefit everyone reporting on the trial, as we will start publishing the transcripts less than 12 hours after each days proceedings.

In addition, we are consulting with a number of legal experts about this issue.

Rainey Reitman, COO of Freedom of the Press Foundation, will be on-hand for interviews in Ft. Meade for the beginning of the trial. You can contact her at rainey@pressfreedomfoundation.org

This issue is still under development. We're confident it will be resolved in a way that will eventually allow the stenographers to do their job. We’ll be providing more updates as we learn about them.