Utah State Courts Media Guidelines
Background: The Utah State Courts acknowledge that the justice system and the public interest are best served when coverage of the justice system and the manner in which it functions contains accurate and complete information.
Stories written by journalists and disseminated through the media constitute the main and most influential source of news and comment on the justice system. For most people, the only contact they have with the daily workings of the law is through media reports.
Purpose: Judges and court staff play an important role in assisting the media in the covering the courts. The purpose of this media protocol is to provide court employees with guidelines on when and how to respond to requests from the media. The objective of the protocol is to ensure that reporters are receiving the information they need in a timely manner and to ensure the court's message is being accurately communicated.
Protocol: The protocol of the Utah State Courts is to have employees respond quickly, courteously, and accurately to questions from representatives of the news media. This includes providing factual information having to do with their functions and responsibilities with the court.
Utah State Court employees should answer routine inquiries from the news media dealing with case status or the date of hearings or trials. Employees should not disclose information to the news media that is inaccessible to the public pursuant to state statutes or by order of the court. In addition, employees should not make unauthorized commitments or promises to representatives of the news media on behalf of the judiciary and should refrain from expressing to news media their opinion on, or interpretation of, any criminal or civil matter before the court, including the results of any trial or other action taken in open court.
Media representatives who request additional information relative to any case, which by law is not closed to the public or has not been closed by the judge, should be directed to the court record.
Non-routine or policy-related questions from the media should be referred to the presiding judge, trial court executive, or public information officer. In the event of an emergency situation, one spokesperson will be designated to handle all media inquiries and all employees should direct media inquiries to that spokesperson.
The Role of the Public Information Office:
The Public Information Office (PIO) is responsible for media relations, internal communications, public outreach, publications, and collateral materials.
When a reporter calls:
In general, when a reporter calls about every day court business and employees are able to respond to the call, they should do so if they are comfortable talking with the reporter, e.g. the time a case is scheduled, requests for public documents, and requests for transcripts. (See general media tips listed below.) If court personnel are not comfortable responding to a media request-or if they have been directed not to speak to the media-they should refer the call to the presiding judge, trial court executive, or PIO.
When to alert the Public Information Office:
Overarching Court Issues
When a reporter calls wanting to know overarching information about the courts, such as legislative issues, how a new statute will be implemented, what the ramifications will be for the court, statistical information, etc., court personnel should refer the call to the PIO. If court personnel are unsure whether or not to respond to a reporter, they should refer the reporter to the PIO who will determine the best person for the reporter to talk with. (Reporters appreciate it when they are not transferred to a number of individuals within the court system to get a question answered.)
High Profile Cases
Court employees should contact the PIO when they receive multiple calls about a specific case or topic. When this happens, a case or issue becomes "high profile" and can often take on a life of its own. In this instance, a court employee may become inundated with calls. The PIO can help by answering these media calls and taking the load off the court clerks. In addition, this allows the PIO to be aware of the case and better prepared to handle calls from other reporters, especially national media.
Employee Interviews with the Media
Those employees who are authorized to do interviews should contact the PIO when doing an interview with a reporter or when setting up an interview between a reporter and another court employee. It is best to let the PIO know prior to being interviewed because the PIO may be able to provide additional information that will be helpful for the interview.
The PIO will correct inaccuracies reported in the media concerning either factual or procedural matters before the court or regarding the administrative operations of the judiciary. As a general rule, the judiciary will not respond to news stories regarding the appropriateness of a particular court decision. If court employees become aware of an inaccuracy reported to the media they should contact the PIO.
Presiding judges, trial court executives, public information officer, state court administrator, deputy state court administrator, district court administrator, juvenile court administrator, assistant state court administrator, and others when directed.
Media in the Courthouse:
Photographing Court Proceedings
Media requests to photograph court proceedings are governed by Rule 4-401. A form titled "Media request for still photography in the courtroom," is located on the court's website under the heading Media Center, then Resources/Policies/Photography. Incidents involving media coverage that are not governed by Rule 4-401 and are deemed inappropriate by the court should be referred to the PIO for appropriate action.
To ensure public safety and to minimize disruptions of court operations, the media are discouraged from conducting interviews within the courtroom. TV and radio interviews are prohibited in many courthouses (and areas of other courthouses) and media should check with the trial court executive for clarification on whether or not access is permitted.
Requests to film or photograph court facilities for commercial and other purposes, e.g. movies, commercials, wedding portraits, are governed by Rule 4-401. Requests should be submitted to the trial court executive for consideration by the presiding judge. In general, filming in the courtroom is permitted only for ceremonial or court-approved public information programs when approved by the presiding judge.
General Media Tips:
When talking with a reporter, here are some pointers for court spokespersons to remember:
- Treat reporters courteously and diplomatically. A reporter's impression of the court spokesperson becomes their impression of the courts and is reflected in the story.
- Discuss with reporters only known facts; don't speculate.
- Respond quickly to the media. If possible, return a reporter's call within 30 minutes (most media experts suggest 15 minutes). If unavailable to respond, forward the call to someone who can. Reporters have deadlines and the courts don't want a story to come out saying "no one at the courts could be reached for comment," or "the court did not respond to requests for information."
Please contact the Communications Director with any questions or suggestions:
Utah State Courts Communications Director