Cameras Banned at Valassis v. News America Trial; Whistleblower Emmel Also Ruled Out

Last Updated May 26, 2009 5:45 PM EDT

The Valassis v. News America Marketing trial, set to open Wednesday in Michigan, will receive almost no coverage in the media thanks to a decision by Wayne County circuit court judge Michael Sapala. A request by the Courtroom View Network to have cameras stream live testimony on the web was denied by the judge.

The ruling means that it is almost certain no reporters will be at the trial. (Ad Age's Detroit bureau will probably be covering the General Motors bankruptcy, as will the business desk of The Detroit Free Press. Ditto Adweek and Brandweek. DM News does not have a reporter available to attend the trial. BNET is based in New York and thus won't be there.)

The de facto coverage blackout is probably good for News America, the defendant, in that the trial will consist of a lengthy list of uncomfortable allegations and anecdotes about that company and its clients.

The camera ban came without a ruling, even though Michigan court rules presume in favor of camera access to courts and require a finding "on the record" by a judge in the event camera coverage is denied. The rule says in relevant part:
Film or electronic media coverage shall be allowed upon request in all court proceedings ... A judge may terminate, suspend, limit, or exclude film or electronic media coverage at any time upon a finding, made and articulated on the record ...
The judge's clerk confirmed to BNET that CVN's coverage request was denied and that no ruling was made explaining the denial. A message left with the judge requesting an explanation was not returned by the time of writing.

Both parties requested the camera ban, according to CVN. Irony alert: News America is owned by News Corp., which normally has a commercial interest in favor of courtroom coverage.

"We were very surprised by the denial," Shelly Albaum, chief operating officer for CVN, told BNET. "Michigan recognizes a public policy in favor of court access, so we expect to get in. Cameras can be precluded only if the court makes a finding on the record that cameras would interfere with the administration of justice. CVN has captured hundreds of trials, and we never interfere with anything. We haven't seen a finding, and can't guess what the court's issue might be."

Separately, the trial is set to start without News America whistleblower Robert Emmel as a witness, a source tells BNET. In Atlanta federal court, News America won a ruling on March 13 preventing Emmel from revealing to "any third party" information about what he did while employed at News America. That will be a blow to Valassis, as BNET readers will remember that it was Emmel who revealed that News America charged its clients for ads that never appeared and maintained "do not pay" lists for stores where ads had not run but clients had paid.

Lawyers for both Valassis and News America declined comment or did not return a call at the time of writing. Image by Flickr user J Deamer, CC

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