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"Unwarranted questions" result in restraining order for reporter

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Newsgathering         Dec 12, 2002    

“Unwarranted questions” result in restraining order for reporter

  • A Tampa television reporter must stay 300 feet away from a man who felt harassed by questions about his multiple drunk-driving arrests.

A circuit court judge in Tampa refused Dec. 12 to rescind his earlier restraining order against a reporter who asked allegedly “unwarranted” questions of a man with multiple drunk-driving arrests.

Gregg Thomas, Andrew’s attorney, said that he will file an emergency appeal of Judge Eric Myers’ order that requires WFLA investigative reporter Steve Andrews to stay 300 feet from Minh Ben Ross of Tampa. If the order is not overturned on appeal, it will stay in effect at least until a hearing late next week to determine if there is enough evidence to sustain it.

“It’s a devastatingly bad decision to prohibit a reporter from asking questions,” Thomas said.

Ross was the subject of a series of WFLA stories about DUI arrests, which included reports of how crucial evidence against Ross had been thrown out at trial. Andrews and a cameraman followed Ross out of the courthouse last week, where Ross and his lawyer refused to answer questions. The cameraman also videotaped Ross driving with a suspended license.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Ross said in his application for a temporary restraining order that Andrews “harassed me and my lawyer repetitively with unwarranted questions,” and accused the reporter of “displaying me and treating me as a terrible individual” in news reports. Ross alleged that he has lost sleep, can’t work, and must “close all my blinds in my home for fear he may be stalking me.”

Thomas told the Times that the statute was never meant to apply to legitimate newsgathering.

“These injunctions are designed to protect spouses in abuse situations,” Thomas said. “Mr. Andrews only asked Mr. Ross some questions. That’s not what these injunctions were designed for.”

Andrews called the injunction “ridiculous” and an affront to the First Amendment, according to the newspaper.

(Media Counsel: Gregg Thomas, Holland & Knight, Tampa, Fla.) GL

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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