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Montana broadcaster fined for violating prior restraint

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         WYOMING         Prior Restraints         Jun 1, 2000    

Montana broadcaster fined for violating prior restraint

  • Television station found guilty of contempt of court for repeating information on newscast and web site that had been released in open court proceeding.

A Cody, Wyoming, state court judge fined a Montana television station $750 on May 30 for dissemination of information about a child sexual assault victim, according to an Associated Press report.

District Judge Hunter Patrick determined that Billings station KTVQ-TV had violated his order prohibiting public identification of the alleged child victim when it aired “identifying information” about the victim, but not his name, on its broadcast and web site. The $750 fine is the maximum penalty he could impose under Wyoming law.

The order barring dissemination of information about the child victim was issued by Patrick at the sentencing hearing for James Eric Peterson, who had been convicted of raping and murdering another child.

Imposition of the penalty was delayed so that the station could appeal the finding of contempt of court to the Wyoming Supreme Court, according to the AP.

A KTVQ reporter testified at the contempt hearing that she did not know about Patrick’s order barring dissemination of information about the victim and that her report containing the identifying information merely repeated information stated in open court.

A reporter for The Billings Gazette served as the prosecution’s only witness and informed the court that he had provided the county prosecutor with a printout of the KTVQ web site story in question two months after Peterson’s sentencing hearing, according to the AP.

The wire service also reported that station lawyer William O’Connor argued at the hearing that his client did not violate the order because it did not reveal the name of the victim, and that Patrick’s order could not bind the station because the prior restraint against publication infringed on the station’s First Amendment right to distribute information stated in a open, public courtroom.

Patrick reportedly responded to O’Connor’s arguments by noting that other reporters covering the sentencing hearing complied with his order and that a state law keeping the identity of child sexual assault victims confidential was designed to balance the privacy interests of the minor victims with the constitutional rights of the public, according to the AP.

(Wyoming v. KTVQ-TV; Media Counsel: William O’Connor, Billings)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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