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Mayor cannot bar radio reporter from news conferences

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SIXTH CIRCUIT   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Jan. 18, 2007

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SIXTH CIRCUIT   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Jan. 18, 2007

Mayor cannot bar radio reporter from news conferences

  • A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that prohibits the mayor of Toledo, Ohio, from banning a journalist from press conferences.

Jan. 18, 2007  ·   The mayor of Toledo, Ohio, cannot bar a local radio reporter from attending press conferences and must notify his station of upcoming news events, a federal judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge James Carr in Toledo granted a temporary restraining order requested by WSPD-AM, a Clear Channel-owned talk radio station that sought to have the court order Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to allow reporter Kevin Milliken and others from his station to attend press conferences.

The order also states that Finkbeiner and his spokesman, Brian Schwartz, must give WSPD-AM advance notice of news conferences, as they do to other local media.

The mayor’s office dropped WSPD-AM from its e-mail notification list in the summer, following critical coverage of Finkbeiner’s plans to build a bike path near his home.

On Jan. 9, Milliken was not allowed into a news conference that Finkbeiner jointly held with University of Toledo officials about plans for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

The next day, Schwartz attempted to bar Milliken and two other WSPD-AM talk show hosts from a press conference about economic development. When Schwartz partially opened the door to let in another WSPD-AM reporter, Milliken and the two talk show hosts pushed the door open and entered.

Schwartz then cancelled the press conference and invited reporters to meet individually with the mayor, again excluding Milliken.

The radio station’s complaint states that Finkbeiner’s policy singling out WSPD-AM reporters violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“The policy chills the speech of all members of the press who disagree with the Mayor or his administration’s actions, denies the public access to information to which it is entitled, and opens the door for these Defendants or any public official to retaliate against any member of the media whose viewpoint differs from that of the government,” the complaint states.

In a column in the Toledo Free-Press, Schwartz cited a recent case involving The Baltimore Sun in asserting that the mayor’s office had the right to exclude Milliken.

In 2004, the Sun sued then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich after he ordered Maryland officials not to return calls or comply with requests from two Sun reporters. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and a federal appeals court in Richmond (4th Cir.) upheld the decision last year.

But the radio station noted in its lawsuit that though Ehrlich excluded the Sun reporters from small “press briefings” in his conference rooms, he did not bar them from public news conferences, as the Toledo mayor did to Milliken.

Schwartz also said the mayor’s office counted Milliken as an “entertainer,” not a reporter, because he hosts a talk show, “Eye on Toledo,” though most of his time is spent reporting for the news department.

Andy Stuart, vice president and general manager of Clear Channel’s Toledo radio stations, said Finkbeiner had no constitutional right to restrict attendance at a press conference held at a public building, even if those who want to attend are not members of the media.

“The mayor or any other public official does not have the right to decide who covers their press conferences or news activities,” Stuart said.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26 on the radio station’s motion to have the temporary court order made permanent.

In 2005, another federal judge ruled that the Youngstown, Ohio, mayor did not violate the First Amendment when he ordered city officials not to speak with reporters from a business journal. The journal appealed the case, but a federal appeals court in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) ruled the case moot because the mayor was no longer in office at the time.

(Citicasters Co. v. Finkbeiner, Media Counsel: Thomas G. Pletz, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, Toledo, Ohio)RG

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