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Charging the Media to Cover the O.J. Trial?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Charging the Media to Cover the O.J. Trial?

Article excerpt

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 court, house, 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 get, ting 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 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. …

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