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Ind. media ordered to reveal idenities of website posters

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A Marion County, Ind., court ruled that news outlets can be ordered to disclose identifying information about those who post…

A Marion County, Ind., court ruled that news outlets can be ordered to disclose identifying information about those who post anonymously on the news outlets' websites.

Jeffrey Miller, former chief executive of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, and his wife Cynthia filed a defamation suit last year against Jennifer Burk, current chief executive of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, Brian Payne, who is president of Central Indiana Community Foundation, and both organizations. Miller seeks to expand his list of defendants to include people who have criticized him anonymously on websites managed by The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Business Journal and television station WRTV.

"The online statements that Miller considers defamatory include the accusation that he committed 'most likely a criminal act,' a description of him as 'the most greedy man I’ve ever known,' and a comment saying 'somebody needs to call the state’s attorney general and investigate him,' according to the lawsuit," the Star reported.

Miller subpoenaed the media organizations to turn over the identities of the unknown posters. Although all three media outlets challenged the subpoenas, Judge S. K. Reid ruled last week in a one-page order that the Star and Indianapolis Business Journal must turn over any identifying information, such as a poster's Internet protocol address or Internet provider. The order provided no rationale for the decision. The information could be used to subpoena an Internet provider for a poster's name. The judge's ruling on WRTV is expected later this week.

Reid is the first judge to rule on whether the state's shield law protects media outlets from disclosing the names of anonymous posters on their websites. Star Editor and Vice President Dennis Ryerson said he was disappointed in the ruling. "We feel that the Indiana shield law here is very broad and that certainly this ought to be covered."

While the Business Journal has already turned over information sought by Miller, the Star has not. "It is our practice to not provide that information and we will resist any efforts to require us to do so," Ryerson said. When asked what action the Star was going to take next, Ryerson said "we are reviewing our legal options." Attempts to reach counsel for Miler for comment were unsuccessful.