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Editorial - Free press issues at the fore

Last week freedom of the press issues were in the forefront of the news ? the most obvious situation being the confrontation between extremists on both sides over the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed. All I''ll say about that is everyone knows most newspapers and magazines in Europe and western countries have the right to print whatever they want. However, respect and good judgment should also play a part. Fanning the flames of this us-versus-them scenario is no more right or justified than gangs of Muslims setting fire to Danish embassies and flags. On the home front, two press-related issues came up. Early last week, Justice Mary Lou Benotto slapped a publication ban on the names of the victims infected with HIV-contaminated blood (and anyone who may have received Factorate, an infected blood-clotting product) in the long-awaited criminal trial arising from the tainted blood scandal. There are some viable reasons for trying to protect people's privacy, but in some cases the victims wanted to speak out and were muzzled.

But totally off the wall was Benotto's decision to bar foreign media from the trial. U.S. news outlets have interest in the case because it involves New Jersey-based Armour Pharmaceutical Co., which produced Factorate, and Michael Rodell, one of the company's former executives. The Crown had apparently asked for the ban as pre-trial matters wound down. Benotto decided not to allow news media, including Internet publications, from outside Canada to enter the courtroom

without her permission.

One would imagine that the reasoning for such a ban was that foreign media would disregard publication bans imposed by an Ontario court, as has been the case in the Robert Pickton trial and more recently at the Gomery inquiry. But it does appear that barring foreign reporters would be tricky. Would everyone be asked for ID at the door before being allowed into the court? Would anyone taking notes be subject to a shout-out from the bench questioning who they were and what they were doing?

It wasn't really workable and perhaps for that reason both bans were lifted a few days later and the Canadian and American press were allowed to report whatever they wanted, including interviews with victims. One of them is James Kreppner, a lawyer whose career was halted when he contracted HIV and Hepatitis C through tainted blood.

In Hamilton, Ont., the police asked a judge to issue a "production order" to get Hamilton Spectator reporter Bill Dunphy's notes of interviews with convicted drug dealer Paul Gravelle. It's the first time such a request has been made. The cops want Dunphy's notes to help them prove Gravelle was the leader of a criminal organization.

Media lawyer Brian Rogers argued that the police have to prove there are no alternative sources for this information; the police had tapped Gravelle's phone and they already have a number of the Dunphy interviews on tape.

Justice Stephen Glithero will give his decision shortly. He should agree with Rogers and not let the police use reporters to do their dirty work.

— Gail J. Cohen
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