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Supreme Court denies review in a handful of news media cases

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Newsgathering         Oct 4, 2000    

Supreme Court denies review in a handful of news media cases

  • The court declined to hear appeals of cases involving a model’s photograph, a Klan sponsorship announcement, an online posting of financial information, a prisoner’s right to talk to the media, and a journalist’s conviction under a child pornography statute.

On the first day of its new term, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review on a number of cases that involve First Amendment and free press issues.

The court decided not to review a mid-February decision from New York’s highest court which held that when a person’s likeness is used to illustrate a newsworthy article, there is no violation of the state civil rights and privacy laws “even if the use of the likeness creates a false impression.”

The case concerned a 14-year-old aspiring model whose sued YM magazine after her photograph was used to illustrate a letter from an unidentified girl seeking advice after drinking alcohol and having sex with three men. (Messenger v. Gruner+Jahr Printing and Publishing; Media Counsel: Robert Sugarman, New York City)

The court also decided not to review a February decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) which rebuffed an attempt by the Missouri Ku Klux Klan to get a sponsorship message read on a not-for-profit public broadcast radio station located on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus.

KWMU-FM acknowledges programming underwriters on the air. The KKK chapter sought to sponsor four segments of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and asked that the following message be read: “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a White Christian organization, standing up for rights and values of White Christian America since 1865. For more information, please contact the Klu Klux Klan . . . Let your voice be heard!”

The court held that the station’s underwriting program was not a forum for speech and the denial therefore did not implicate the First Amendment. (Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Missouri v. Bennett)

Another case concerned an attempt to hold America Online liable for defamatory statements posted on its service. While Internet service providers are specifically exempt from liability under federal law for the content of information posted by others, they can be liable for information they develop or create.

A financial software company that alleged it was defamed by false stock information argued that the service’s actions in compiling the information meant that it plays a role in creating that content, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver (10th Cir.) found that America Online’s involvement in posting the information did not rise to the level of creating content. It upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the claim. (Ben Ezra, Weinstein, and Company v. America Online)

The court also declined to review an appeal by federal prison officials who argued they are immune from liability in a lawsuit by a prisoner who was moved to “administrative detention” to keep him from talking to the news media in November 1988. Brett Kimberlin had been scheduled to hold a telephone press conference with journalists gathered in a Washington, D.C., hotel the day before the presidential election about his allegations that he had once sold drugs to Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle. The claim must now go to trial.

(Quinlan v. Kimberlin)

A reporter convicted of sending and receiving child pornography, who has argued that he should have been able to tell the jury his actions were protected by the First Amendment, also lost his bid for high-court review. He must now serve his 18-month sentence. (U.S. v. Matthews)


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