Today, a coalition of more than twenty media organizations—including Boing Boing, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Fox News, the New Yorker, Bloomberg News, Newsweek, New York Magazine, and Reporters Without Borders —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, which started today.
Trevor Timm from Freedom of the Press Foundation (I'm also on the board) explains:
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.
And an 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.
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.
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Atlantic Media, Inc.
Fox News Network LLC
The Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
The McClatchy Company
The New Yorker
New York Magazine
The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company
The Online News Association
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders