Today, in what is thought to be the first case of its kind, the judge in the Julian Assange case has said that journalists can tweet throughout the trial providing “it’s quiet and doesn’t disturb anything.” This case really is landmark in the future of journalism.
Traditionally the courts have remained one of the last bastions of the non-digital era, with journalists forced to write everything down in short hand and then rush out at convenient points to file copy. This process takes time and ensured that court reporting remained ‘second-hand’, but also that only ‘trained’ journalists could cover the courts as they needed to be able to write in short hand to keep up.
But now with this ruling I can see little reason, beyond obvious defamation and privacy issues that go with all court reporting, that a judge can now refuse journalists the right to Tweet during the proceedings. If such a high profile precedent has been set there seems very little justification for other judges to take offence.
And from allowing Twitter, how far are we from having journalists being allowed to bring in laptops? I mean if we are allowed to live tweet, can we not use our smart phones (effectively computers anyway) to live-blog the events?
This creates all kinds of issues, not just for publishers but for the court system. Only last month the Lord Chief Justice (the brilliantly named Lord Judge) said that social media was undermining the jury system. If every trial have a twitter hashtag, what is to stop the jury looking it up every night to get the latest opinion on it?
But the technology is making these issues inevitable and the courts have to face them, rather than run away from them. Many in the courts are proud are being the last area of civil society to cling on to an anti-technology stance. That grip may just have got weaker.