CNN charged with contempt for airing tapes
FLORIDA — Three and half years after telecasting excerpts from taped telephone conversations of Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega despite a gag order, the Cable News Network was charged with criminal contempt of court in late March.
A special federal prosecutor filed a criminal information in late March charging that CNN “knowingly and willfully” disobeyed federal district Judge William Hoeveler’s order prohibiting telecast of any material covered by the attorney client privilege, the New York Times reported. The network pleaded not guilty at an arraignment before Hoeveler on March 30.
In November 1990, while Noriega was awaiting trial, CNN obtained tape recordings made by federal officials of Noriega’s telephone calls made from jail. Noriega’s lawyers asked Judge Hoeveler to enjoin the network from airing the tapes because it might damage Noriega’s fair trial rights.
CNN argued that the ban was “an unconstitutional prior restraint of its First Amendment right to disseminate the news.” However, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) upheld Hoeveler’s order in early November.
A few days later the U.S. Supreme Court let the order stand, over the dissenting opinions of Justices Marshall and O’Connor.
A CNN spokesman said that the court wanted to wait until Noriega’s trial was over before it dealt with the violation of the order. Noriega was convicted of eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering in 1992.
The trial is scheduled for July in U.S. District Court in Miami.
(U.S. v. Cable News Network, Inc.; Media Counsel: William B. Killian, Miami)