Inmate’s suit to force NPR to air commentaries dismissed
WASHINGTON, D.C.–A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in mid- August brought by a death row inmate who claimed National Public Radio violated his First Amendment rights by not airing his recorded readings.
Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that NPR is not a government entity and therefore is not obligated to air the commentaries of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a member of the Black Panther Party and author of “Live from Death Row.”
Abu-Jamal’s attorneys said they filed a motion for reconsideration in early September. If that motion is denied, they will appeal Lamberth’s original ruling, his attorneys said.
Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to death in 1982 for the killing a Philadelphia police officer, sued NPR after executives cancelled his commentaries before they were scheduled to air in May 1994. Abu- Jamal’s $2 million suit sought monetary damages and a court order forcing NPR to broadcast the readings.
Abu-Jamal said the commentaries, which voiced his views on the death penalty, police brutality and racism, drew public protest from Philadelphia’s police union. He also said members of Congress asked NPR not to air the recordings. NPR denies, however, backing down due to any external pressure.
Abu-Jamal argued that the federal funding NPR receives makes it an agency of the federal government, and thus it violated his freedom of speech and freedom from government censorship.
Although NPR does receive money through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Lamberth wrote that none of NPR’s directors is appointed by the federal government and that holding “every private corporation subject to federal regulation to be governmental instrumentalities, … would effectively nationalize a large portion of America’s private industrial and organizational structure.”
Lamberth also said Abu-Jamal’s claims seeking payment and the return of his tapes were state, rather than federal, issues over which the federal court did not have jurisdiction. (Abu-Jamal v. National Public Radio; Counsel for Abu-Jamal: Lynne Bernabei, Washington, D.C.)