Charging The Media To Cover The O.J. Trial? p. 9

By: M.L. Stein Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors proposes the idea to
Judge Lance Ito as a way to cut the government's expenses sp.

STUNNED BY THE mounting cost of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors came up with an idea to cut expenses: charging the media for their coverage of it.
The board asked trial judge Lance Ito to hit up the media for part of the bill, which it said already had reached $2.5 million, with the meter still running.
Steven Herbert, press spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich, author of the proposal, said the request to Ito is directed at the broadcast media.
But attorney Kelli Sager, who appeared before the board to oppose the action, said in an interview that pay-for-coverage is a threat to the print press as well. Sager, who represents the Los Angeles Times and Gannett Co., as well as the three major networks and CNN in the matter, said she believes that the board is running afoul of the First Amendment, and that under California law a judge cannot charge the media for covering a trial.
"It is disturbing to me that the county is taking the position that the media is making a profit on the trial and, 'So, why shouldn't we get a piece of it?' " Sager commented. "If the county set up a T-shirt stand outside the courthouse, people would say that's absurd. But both cases would create a conflict of interest."
The supervisors approved a motion to seek media compensation after getting an opinion from county counsel DeWitt W. Clinton, who said the "trial judge has the discretion to order businesses receiving and commercially profiting from the live broadcast of the O.J. Simpson trial to pay part or all of any trial costs caused or increased by the broadcasts."
Clinton also opined that the courts and the county can install their own video and audio equipment in the courtroom and charge a fee for their use.
Moreover, the attorney said, "If sufficient editing, commentary or other augmentation is added to the recordings," they may be copyrighted and sold.
Antonovich, who referred to the trial media as a "bunch of jackals" in a an on-air interview with KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, said the Simpson case has cost Los Angeles County $2,472,990 from its beginning in mid-June to Jan. 31, including $197,814 to sequester the jury. The amount, he noted, does not cover expenses incurred by the Los Angeles Police Department in connection with the case.
"I have received many calls from the public, asking what the county can do to defray the trial costs," Antonovich said in a statement. "Charging for the feed has drawn tremendous support from the public."
The supervisor dismissed the possibility of a First Amendment violation if the media were made to pay for coverage. He said the Supreme Court has ruled there is no constitutional right to have live witness testimony recorded and broadcast. First Amendment rights, he continued, are satisfied by the admission of the public and print press at a trial.
"The media and public would still have the right to attend the trial, and report what they have observed," he insisted.
Sylvia Teague, president of the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California (RTNA), contended the supervisors do not have a clear idea of the expenses TV has incurred in reporting the trial.
"There is no free ride," she told E&P.
Teague said RTNA members expect to spend at least $1.25 million before the trial ends. The county is charging TV stations $24,000-a-month rent for parking their trucks and satellite dishes at "Camp O.J," across the street from the courthouse, she pointed out.
In addition, Teague said, the broadcasters are paying $54 an hour for sheriff's deputies and private security guards for their equipment at the parking area and in the 12th-floor newsroom. "And, of course, there was the very expensive job of installing a complex, permanent wiring system in the courtroom," she added.
"What this amounts to is a tax on us to cover a public trial," she stated. "Everyone in the media, both print and broadcast, should oppose it."
Newspapers and magazines have a direct interest, Teague observed, since most of their reporters cover the trial from TV monitors in the courthouse pressroom.
In her statement to the board, Sager said its proposal sets up a "serious conflict of interest." It would, she argued, create a situation whereby the county, which employs the prosecutors, could conceivably be perceived as "prolonging a trial because the longer it takes, the more money the county would make."
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke told the Los Angeles Times, "Understand, we are not trying to hurt television stations. We are not trying to take away their profits, we just want a part of it."
Judge Ito did not immediately respond to the supervisor's request.
"I would think he has enough on his mind already without having to deal with this," Sager remarked.

?(The county of Los Angeles is charging TV stations $24,000-a-month rent for parking their trucks and satellite dishes at "Camp O.J," across the street from the courthouse, according to Sylvia Teague, president of the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California. Now the county board of supervisors has petitioned trial Judge Lance Ito to permit it to have the media pay a portion of the expenses for conducting the trial.) [Photo & Caption]


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