United States

UNITED STATES These are the major press freedom developments in the past six months: At President Clinton’s request, Congress removed language from a major intelligence spending bill that would have made leaking of government secrets a criminal act. In November, the president vetoed the bill, which authorized an estimated $30 billion in spending by the CIA, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, because he disagreed with the provision on leaks of classified information. In his veto message, Clinton said such leaks "can be extraordinarily harmful" to national security. But he expressed concern that the new penalties could silence whistle-blowers. The provision would have extended penalties for leaking classified national defense information to the leaking of nondefense classified data that could harm the United States if it were made public or given to foreign governments. Even members of Congress would have been subject to criminal charges for leaking classified information. Four of the nation's largest news organization - CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Newspaper Association of America - asked the president to veto the bill. Currently, government employees who disclose classified material that does not directly harm national security generally are sanctioned by administrative action such as dismissal, but the new language would have made such an act a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The amended version of the intelligence bill gained final congressional approval December 11. On January l7, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a dispute over state limits on cigarette advertising as a test of whether to give commercial speech broader protection against government regulation. The court said it would hear the tobacco companies' argument that limits on cigarette and cigar advertising at stores in Massachusetts violate constitutional free speech protections. In recent years, the justices have moved toward giving commercial speech the same constitutional protection as political and artistic expression. The Gannett Co. disclosed January 23 that it had paid Chiquita Brands International $14 million in an out-of-court settlement stemming from an investigative report by The Cincinnati Enquirer on the company’s practices in Central America. The sum was disclosed for the first time in documents filed in a Washington, D.C. court, as part of a lawsuit by former Enquirer Editor Lawrence K. Beaupre against the newspaper, which is owned by Gannett. Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell confirmed that $14 million was paid as a condition of the settlement, along with a published apology and removal of the Enquirer's series from its Web site. Beaupre's lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that top Gannett officials closely supervised work on the Enquirer's articles in May 1998, but blamed him when problems arose after publication. In June 1998, the Enquirer renounced the series, fired lead reporter Michael Gallagher and apologized to Chiquita. Gannett, which publishes USA Today and 98 other U.S. newspapers, says Beaupre's lawsuit is "full of inaccuracies."