Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley had a revealing post about the entirely uncritical attitude of the local Northwest Arkansas Times towards former Washington County drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, who resigned from her position to pursue a career as a television show host. Gunn’s drug court proceedings were filmed and televised on local Jones TV until a court ethics panel and then the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against that practice. Gunn soon resigned and now works on a court “reality” TV show. Legal issues have arisen whether Jones TV may commercially use some of the recordings from the real drug court proceedings. NWA Times wholeheartedly jumped to Gunn’s and Jones TV’s defense in an August 18 editorial, claiming that
(1) all defendants had freely consented to being filmed, and
(2) that the records “belong to the cable television company that did the recording”, and banning their use would be a “taking of private property”.
Brantley quotes extensively from court transcripts that seem to show that Gunn didn’t always honor the wish of defendants who refused consent. In fact, Gunn comes across as quite a bully and it seems highly dubious whether any of the defendants truly had the choice to consent or not. This is precisely the problem that motivated the Supreme Court to rule against televising court proceedings. Moreover, the NWA Times’ stance that the court recordings are commercial property is ludicrous on its face. Even if defendants agreed to being televised in the drug court context, they clearly didn’t agree to their appearance being commercially exploited for a reality TV show years later.
The picture that emerges is that of a local media outlet aggressively pandering to a local celebrity and commercial enterprise, disdainful of the rights of vulnerable individuals, giving the powerful the benefit of the doubt instead of doing journalistic research and asking the hard questions.
UPDATE: NWA Times rebukes Gunn