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Judge finds Web producer not 'legitimate media'

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  1. Newsgathering
An independent video producer will not be allowed to videotape a pair of criminal trials in Tennessee because a judge…

An independent video producer will not be allowed to videotape a pair of criminal trials in Tennessee because a judge has deemed him not a member of the "legitimate media."

John Lee maintains the Web site piratenews.org and in the past has broadcast his work on public-access cable. He has posted videos about President Obama’s birthplace and missing e-mail messages from the Bush administration.

He was seeking permission to film the trials of Clifford Clark, who is charged with criminal trespass at the University of Tennessee and pointing a shotgun at a deputy who was serving the trespass warrant. Clark was originally accused of shooting a red-light camera, but that charge was dismissed Thursday.

Knox County Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz concluded that Lee, who presented a business card to support his request, is not covered by Rule 30 of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which generally allows for coverage by "legitimate news gathering and reporting agencies."

In an order, Leibowitz wrote: "It is this court’s opinion, as it stated to Mr. Lee in open court, that anyone can make a business card, with at home equipment as well as a press badge, and bring a hand-held video camera into a courtroom, and declare themselves media. That does not make ‘legitimate media’ under Rule 30."

Leibowitz indicated that the "legitimate media" are "in business for the purpose of giving news to the general public." Lee said he rarely makes money from his coverage.

Lee, who said he was banned from public television over the content of a program he had submitted, has expressed concern about judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

"I just go where the news takes me," Lee said. "I don’t know if the guy did it or not."

Leibowitz noted that the prosecution opposed Lee’s request and believed Lee has a "specific agenda."

Lee said he is working on an appeal, in which he plans to show a new, professionally printed business card, and a car-crash scene video that he said he sold to local television network, which he hopes will sway the judge to see him as a freelance reporter.