Contempt Was Considered for Audio in ‘Serial’ Podcast

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The popular “Serial” podcast relied in part on Baltimore courtroom audio from the trial of  Adnan Syed to help raise questions about and bring attention to his case. If the courts had their way, the podcast’s millions of listeners wouldn’t have heard any of Syed’s original trial. Officials disclosed this week that they considered holding the producers in contempt, the Baltimore Sun reports. Maryland law prohibits the broadcasting of any criminal case, and court officials this year reached out to producer Sarah Koenig to find out how the tapes ended up in the podcast. Syed’s conviction was overturned in part on questions raised by listeners of the show.

Koenig said she received incorrect legal advice about the state’s rules on courtroom audio. The court accepted the explanation, and Koenig agreed she would not broadcast court proceedings in the future. Several states allow wide access for cameras in courtrooms. Not only are cameras not allowed in Maryland, but the courts restrict access to share video and audio recorded by courtroom cameras after a case has concluded. In Baltimore, reporters may only view such video recordings by sitting at the desk of a courthouse staffer. Audio CDs can be purchased, but cannot be shared. Koenig said she noticed a sticker on the recordings of Syed’s 2000 trial that said they could not be broadcast. She said her team consulted with an attorney who said they were OK to be included in the podcast. “We did it in blissful ignorance,” Koenig said. “Looking back, for us journalistically, I’m glad we didn’t know what we were doing, because we might have made different decisions.” Despite the massive success of the 2014 podcast, court officials didn’t inquire about the airing of the tapes until early 2016.

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