NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · SIXTH CIRCUIT · Newsgathering · Feb. 2, 2007
Radio reporter wins injunction against mayor
Feb. 2, 2007 · The mayor of Toledo, Ohio, and his office are required to admit reporter Kevin Milliken to all public press conferences and give advance notice of such conferences to the news director of WSPD-AM 1370 equivalent to that given to other news organizations, a federal judge decided Wednesday in making permanent a temporary restraining order he approved earlier this month.
The injunction issued by U.S. District Judge James Carr in Toledo upheld the station’s claims that the mayor, Carleton Finkbeiner, and his spokesman violated the First Amendment rights of Milliken by excluding him from press conferences he had previously been allowed to attend.
Beginning last June, the mayor’s office stopped notifying the radio station of public news conferences. Milliken was also excluded from press conferences in January.
The court agreed with the radio station that the situation was “an effort to manage the news by manipulating who comes to hear what’s to be said and therefore who reports it,” according to the order.
The judge’s order cites his comments from a Jan. 16 hearing, where he approved a temporary order ordering the mayor to notify WSPD-AM of media events and to allow Milliken into press conferences.
“A press conference is a public event. And to pick and choose who can attend seems to me clearly to violate the First Amendment,” Carr said in the hearing.
At that hearing, the mayor’s attorney expressed concern that the injunction would be a “sword of Damocles” over the mayor’s head every time he talks to only one or two reporters in the future.
The judge said that risk is “well worth imposing” to “make clear to a public official that you disregard the First Amendment at your risk and peril.”
The radio station also expressed concern that the defendant might change press conferences to private “briefings,” as he did earlier in January. The judge said he did not want this issue to come down to “semantic hair splitting” in the future, and said city officials could be cited for contempt of court if the practice occurs again.
(Citicasters Co. v. Finkbeiner, Media Counsel: Thomas G. Pletz, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, Toledo, Ohio) — LM