Editorial: Noor’s trial sheds light on media accessibility cultural impacts

The Mohamed Noor trial highlights problems that may result from restricted media access.

Daily Editorial Board

Jury selection for the highly contested Mohamed Noor trial began on Monday. The fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond has garnered local, national and global media attention, yet the media’s access and ability to cover the case has been limited. 

Out of Minnesota’s local media, only the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, KSTP and KARE are allowed in the courtroom during proceedings. Four other media seats went to national and international media organizations. Splitting the eight seats between local, national and international organizations seems fair. However, it limits the public’s access to the trial, as only a handful of media organizations are allowed in. Leita Walker, an attorney representing media groups in the Twin Cities, argues that restricting media access to this case violates media’s free speech rights under the First Amendment, according to reporting from the Star Tribune Editorial Board

While media organizations have spearheaded efforts to push for more accessibility, we argue that transparency of and access to proceedings of this nature are of the utmost importance to the public. This case in particular is clearly important to the global community. Hennepin County District Chief Judge Ivy Bernhardson and District Judge Kathryn L. Quaintance should realize the media is present to serve the public. The media represents those who are not able to be present during the trial, but are equally as invested in it. 

We acknowledge it’s difficult to manage high-profile cases. However, as the coalition of media organizations point out in their letter to Bernhardson, there are clear steps that should have been taken to preserve the media’s legal rights and ensure public interest is fulfilled. The Supreme Court has ruled that trials are considered public events and, therefore, public property. Without meaningful access to trials, the court risks violating these rulings and the media’s right to cover it. 

The court initially chose a small courtroom that allows only 28 spectators — eight from media and 20 for family of those involved, members of the public and a sketch artist. This resulted in many prominent local members of the media, like WCCO, to originally be excluded. The number of seats has been increased to 15; however, we argue this is still inadequate. The so-called “overflow” room is also a disappointment, because it does not provide a clear view of the proceedings.

The role of journalists and media professionals in our American society is to inform the public on important issues through transparent reporting techniques. If we are continuously pushed out of public spaces and conversations, the public suffers. Our communities are best served when many media organizations can cover impactful matters. All eyes are on this trial, so let’s ensure they can watch clearly.