United States

UNITED STATES A major setback for freedom of information was the decision on September 21 of the Judicial Conference of the United States not to continue with a three-year experiment to allow television and news cameras to report proceedings en federal courts. Although 47 states have opened courts to television cameras and press photographers and the state of New York appeared poised to follow suit, a spokesman for the Conference, formed by 27 representative federal judges, cited concern that jurors and witnesses may be made nervous or distracted by their presence. The spokesman, David Sellars, said that sensational coverage of recent cases, in particular reporting of the trial of O.J. Simpson, did not influence the decision. In the Simpson case, California State Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has said that he will hold a hearing on whether to bar visual reporting from the courtroom. J ane E. Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, noted that Judge Ito was dealing with the issue in the right way. She noted that many judges were deciding, without holding hearings, to exclude cameras and also bar press contact with jurors. Other developments of significance over the past six months follow: March 2: A bomb exploded outside the house of Beatriz Meiggs-Consuegra, editor of the weekIy El Sureño News, of Naranja, a neighborhood south of Miami, Meiggs-Consuegra said the attack followed threats to advertisers in her newspaper who were told to place their adds in other publications. March 10: Alejandro Mejía Vélez was convicted of the murder of Manuel de Dios Unanue, former editor of El Diario-La Prensa of New York. José Santa Cruz Londoño, reputed leader of the Cali cocaine cartel, is alleged to have ordered the killing, but cannot be extradited from Colombia. March 29: The weekly Cincinnati Herald, which has been the voice of the local Afro-American community since 1954, was bombed and its newsroom destroyed. Editor William Spillers said that he had received threatening letters and phone calls after publishing a column that criticized the Nation of Islam. May 10: Jacqueline Thomas is a Haitian-American journalist and broadcaster for the New York TV program "Conciencia Haiti." On May 8, Ms. Thomas sister was murdered in Port-au-Prince. July 8: Associated Press correspondent Tina Susman was freed after being kidnapped in Mogadishu and held captive for 20 days. At AP's request news organizations around the world blacked out the story of her kidnapping until she was released. July 23: In an Illinois Supreme Court decision, Justice James Hieple charged Chicago Tribune journalist Bob Greene with "journalistic terrorism" over columns he wrote about a boy who was taken from his adoptive parents under a court order. In July, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied a request to overturn a U.S. District Judge's order prohibiting a Brownsvílle Herald, Texas, reporter from interviewing jurors who convicted two international bankers of money-Iaundering. August 8: The lAPA called upon President Bill Clinton to lift restrictions on Cuban journalists and allow Cuban news agencies to operate in the United States. The IAPA made a similar request to Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Restrictions on Cuban journalists date from 1969 when Havana expelled the last resident American correspondent and President Richard Nixon retaliated by closing the offices of the Cuba news agency, Prensa Latina. The Committee to ProteetJournalists has also asked President Clinton to take the first step in allowing American and Cuban journalists to work freely in both countries. August 17: Bay State Banner photographer Julia Cheng charged that she was slapped and verbally assaulted by a Boston police officer when she was covering a demonstration at Boston Coast Guard Station. September 4: Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the building of the magazine Réplica, in Little Havana, Miami. Police said they believed the attack was in response to articles by the magazine editor Max Lesnick, who had been calling for the United States to open negotiations to improve relations with Cuba. September 18: Television networks did not give live coverage to the departure of planes destined for Haiti to protect the security of troops who would have taken part en what was then an invasion force. The decision was criticized in a New York Times editorial. September 22: Former Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson, who was held hostage in Beirut for seven years, filed a lawsuit to force the government to release information in government files about his time in captivity. September 26: Los Angeles County agreed to pay $40,000 to settle a legal newspaper lawsuit against a judge who allegedly grilled three of the newspaper's employers. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise announced the settlement, reached before an appeals court judge, and sald that Judge Ricardo Torres, who conducted the interrogations, did not agree to it but entered no formal objection. September 20: The Navy cited reasons of logistics in barring journalists from visiting Guantánamo Naval Base to report on the Cuban boat people being held in camps on the base. Also in September: A U.S. Park Police officer filed a $2 million Iibellawsuit against a former New York Post columnist, freelance writer Christopher Ruddy; Slrategic Investment, a Baltimore-based newsletter; and the Western Journalism Center; for alleging that he took part in a cover-up of the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster. October 3: The Supreme Court refused to revive an author's SlO million Iibellawsuit against The New York Times for a negative review of his book. The court let stand a ruling that threw out Dan Moldea's lawsuit because the comments at issue were "a supportable interpretation of the author's work.