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Noriega Comes First


By Mark N. Templeton

THE staff appropriately defends the cause of free speech from the constraints of the judicial decisions. In almost all cases, the courts should not be able to infringe upon the rights of a publication or news organization to inform the public.

But in the case of the CNN tapes of conversations between Manuel Noriega and his lawyers, we feel that the Supreme Court was justified in its decision.

CNN's broadcast would directly violate Noriega's rights. Any release of confidential client-lawyer information would be automatic cause for a mistrial. This makes CNN's wish to air the tapes more than just a desire to inform the public of governmental wrongdoing.

They are putting themselves into conflict with Manuel Noriega's right to free speech and a fair trial.

It is not easy to decide whose rights should come first in this situation, but because CNN's broadcast would almost certainly be the cause for a mistrial, Noriega's rights have to come first.

If this were just a case of CNN exposing the wrongdoing of the government, there would be no question that they should be allowed to air the tapes. But a pending legal case and the rights of an accused criminal are also at stake here. That makes the accused's rights more important than the right of a news organization to violate them.

The staff doesn't have any problem letting the CNN tapes be the last straw that finally throws the Noriega case out of court. They say that it's the government's fault anyway and that justice would be served best if the government were forced to admit it. But for the staff to disregard Noriega's rights and wish the circumvention of the judicial process is irresponsible.

Isn't our justice system worth a little more respect than that? Shouldn't it be judges and not the media who decide Noriega's outcome?

Whether the case is already jeopardized or not, the fact remains that no judicial decision has been made. The case may be thrown out for other reasons, but CNN has no justification to tamper willingly with the process.

This case involves more than just the commendable wish to expose the government's actions. It involves the rights of an accused criminal to a fair trial and the Supreme Court was right to uphold these rights.

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