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Judge won't ban Web comments in murder case

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  1. Prior Restraint
A Tennessee judge has refused to order local news outlets to bar public comments on articles related to a murder case…

A Tennessee judge has refused to order local news outlets to bar public comments on articles related to a murder case published on their Web sites.

Attorneys for the four defendants had sought an order directing the press to either disable the relevant comments sections on their sites or require commenters to post using their real names and addresses. Alternatively, according to the opinion released Tuesday, the defendants asked Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner to "establish guidelines for acceptable comments on the internet forums and employ real-time monitors to ensure compliance."

"If the media cannot responsibly report, and/or monitor the public dissemination of its website content," one attorney argued in a written motion, citing threats — against the defendants and their lawyers — posted on unspecified media sites, "it should not be allowed to further publicly disseminate information about this case."

Baumgartner refused the request.

Other measures are available and will be taken to help ensure an impartial jury is chosen, Baumgartner said; restraining the press in this case would neither be effective, given the breadth of outlets available for citizen speech on the Internet, nor would it be an appropriate use of prior restraint.

The sweeping request for restraint of the media came in a brutal double-murder case; The Knoxville News Sentinel and WBIR-TV moved to intervene and argued against it at a hearing in February.