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Court nixes Flynt's initial request for wartime access

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Jan 9, 2002    

Court nixes Flynt’s initial request for wartime access

  • A federal judge refused to bar the Pentagon from denying reporters unlimited coverage in Afghanistan while the Hustler publisher’s lawsuit weaves through the court system.

A federal judge on Jan. 8 refused to impose an injunction to bar the Pentagon from denying reporters access to the war in Afghanistan, although he suggested that a case could be made that there might be a situation where reporters could assert such a right under the First Amendment.

But apparently a lawsuit filed by Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler, isn’t the one.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said it was “far from clear” that he could prevail in his case, especially since there had been some level of openness and access for the press to cover the war.

“It does not appear that plaintiffs have in fact been denied the access they seek or that they necessarily would have been denied such access if they had pursued the matter fully,” Friedman wrote.

The judge declined Flynt’s request for a preliminary injunction to keep U.S. military officials from denying wartime access to Hustler reporters while his lawsuit works its way through the courts. Flynt twice asked Pentagon officials for access to the troops but secured only opportunities to cover food drops and air strikes.

Flynt’s lawsuit has generated little interest among the mainstream press, even before the Pentagon on Dec. 27 officially disbanded the press pool system and allowed open coverage by U.S. journalists in Afghanistan.

But at the time of Flynt’s requests, journalists enjoyed only limited access to troops. The lawsuit seeks an official ruling that journalists have a First Amendment right to cover combat from the front lines.

The government, however, argued in court that reporters enjoy no such right.

In his ruling on the injunction, Friedman wrote that he wasn’t so convinced.

“The court is persuaded that in an appropriate case there could be a substantial likelihood of demonstrating that under the First Amendment the press is guaranteed a right to gather and report news involving United States military operations on foreign soil subject to reasonable regulations,” the judge wrote.

(Flynt v. Rumsfeld; Media counsel: Paul Cambria, Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury & Cambria, New York City) PT

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