MIAMI -- News executives and media lawyers found little comfort in a federal judge's ruling allowing Cable News Network to broadcast tapes of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega's prison phone calls.
They said yesterday's decision by U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler, though positive in and of itself, might still leave a legacy adverse to press freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court's Nov. 18 refusal to lift Hoeveler's temporary ban on the broadcast of the tapes may encourage judges to prevent news outlets from publishing stories until they review material in the media's possession, editors and legal experts said.
"The barriers against prior restraint have been breached a bit," said Floyd Abrams, one of the country's most prominent First Amendment attorneys.
"My concern about the legacy of the case is that it may encourage other litigants to seek more prior restraint and to seek to learn the nature of the information journalists intend to publish," said Abrams, who helped defend the New York Times in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case.
"The aftertaste is unpleasant," said Thomas Plate, editor of The Los Angeles Times' editorial pages. "There was a prior restraint even though it was only for a short period of time."
Plate said he was against prior restraint under most circumstances, except those involving national security or an individual's life.
CBS television network also expressed concern, Hoeveler's ruling notwithstanding.