Fla. TV station still under prior restraint

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Florida state judge yesterday refused to dissolve a temporary prior-restraint order against an Orlando TV station seeking to broadcast news reports about an election-law scandal.

Senior Judge Rom W. Powell of the Florida 9th Circuit Court in Orlando rejected WKMG-TV's motion to vacate a temporary injunction. The injunction prevents Channel 6 News from airing its series about what was found in 80 boxes of documents belonging to political consultant Doug Guetzloe.

Henry Maldonado, vice president and general manager of WKMG-TV, said the station was filing an emergency appeal in a state appeals court in Daytona Beach, Fla., to get the order thrown out.

The judge did grant the station's motion for reconsideration of the Feb. 2 order, “but only to the extent that the injunction will be modified to balance [WKMG-TV's] constitutional right of free press with [Guetzloe's] right to privacy,” Powell's order said.

Guetzloe alleges that the television station improperly obtained the documents. Channel 6 reporter Tony Pipitone has said he received them from a man who bought them for $10 at auction after Guetzloe failed to pay his rent at a self-storage unit where they had been kept. Guetzloe and his attorney, Fred O'Neal, maintain the documents were auctioned in error and still legally belong to Guetzloe.

The political consultant faces charges of violating campaign-disclosure laws relating to an attack ad against a suburban mayoral candidate.

The Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that the prior-restraint order would remain in effect until Powell issues a further ruling next week. The order prohibits WKMG-TV from “publicly airing any information obtained from the documents.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press quoted Carol LoCicero, a Tampa media-law attorney, as saying the order presented constitutional concerns.

“It's always a concern when you prohibit the press from using information that was lawfully obtained,” LoCicero told the Reporters Committee.

The press-advocacy group reported that a series of WKMG news reports on information in the Guetzloe documents “has been ready to air for two weeks.” It also quoted Maldonado as saying the station looked into how its source obtained the material and concluded that “the documents were obtained totally legally on our end.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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