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Judge rescinds prior restraint order over TV news sting

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    News Media Update         MISSOURI         Prior Restraints    

Judge rescinds prior restraint order over TV news sting

  • A Kansas City news station can broadcast the names and faces of men caught in an Internet chat room sex sting, set up by the TV station, after a federal judge lifted an order barring one man’s identity from being revealed in the report.

Feb. 9, 2004 — One day after imposing a temporary restraining order on CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City, Mo., a federal judge ruled last Thursday that the station could fully broadcast an investigative report on Internet sex predators.

On Feb. 4, a man who was identified in the story filed a defamation lawsuit and requested a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. Judge Scott O. Wright ordered the station not to broadcast the man’s face or identity when airing the report.

The TV station immediately filed a brief asking the judge to reconsider.

In reversing his decision, Wright wrote, “A temporary restraining order in this context is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against prior restraints.”

Bernard J. Rhodes, attorney for KCTV, said Wright had to make his initial decision within a few hours. Once he was able to review the law, the judge realized his order constituted a prior restraint, Rhodes said.

“In this case, prior restraint took the form of censorship,” Rhodes said. “It was an example of what happens in Third World countries where governments have control over the media. Something like this takes First Amendment jurisprudence back more than 200 years.”

The first part of KCTV’s five-part investigative series aired Thursday, Feb. 5. The segments are also available on the station’s Web site.

The initial report and advertisements promoting the story features several men who were confronted by KCTV cameras and investigative reporter Steve Chamraz as they approached a house. The men were lured to the house by an adult posing as a 14-year-old girl in an online chat room. The television station organized the sting.

Most of the men are shown on camera covering their faces, getting into their cars and attempting to drive away.

One of the men, identified only as John Doe in his lawsuit, said the story and the promotions that began airing Feb. 1 defamed him. The man, whose name has not been released, asked for at least $75,000 in damages. The case was brought in federal court because the station’s owner is based in Des Moines, Iowa.

The man had not been charged with any crime, according to The Associated Press.

Rhodes said he plans to file an appeal to unseal the complaint, which identifies the plaintiff.

“KCTV was pleased that they could broadcast what they believed was a critical series of news reports featuring a disturbing problem of immediate public concern in Kansas City,” Rhodes said.

(John Doe v. KCTV-5; Media Counsel: Bernard Rhodes, Lathrop & Gage, Kansas City, Mo.) MG

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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