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Larry Flynt loses round in battle for media access to Afghan war

By The Associated Press


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Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that on Feb. 19, 2003, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman threw out Larry Flynt's lawsuit that claimed Hustler's reporter was unlawfully denied access to U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan. Friedman said the Pentagon had placed the Hustler reporter on a list of journalists who would be allowed to travel with ground troops under special conditions. The judge said because Defense Department officials did not formally deny access to the reporter, he had no jurisdiction to address the issue of whether journalists have a constitutional right to accompany U.S. troops engaged in ground combat.

WASHINGTON — Hustler publisher Larry Flynt lost the first round in a court battle for the right to send the magazine's reporters with U.S. forces on combat missions in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman denied Flynt's request yesterday for a preliminary injunction to bar the Pentagon from denying his reporters access while his lawsuit against the Defense Department is pending.

It "is far from clear" whether Flynt ultimately will prevail or has suffered sufficient harm, the judge said.

Additionally, Friedman wrote, "It does not appear that plaintiffs have in fact been denied the access they seek or that they necessarily would have been denied such access if they had pursued the matter fully."

He said coverage has increased "and the media now has some level of open access to American troops on the ground in Afghanistan."

Flynt first asked on Oct. 30 for his employees to accompany U.S. ground troops on operations and repeated his request Nov. 12. The Pentagon offered access only to such missions as humanitarian food drops and air strikes and promised to try to expand privileges later. Flynt sued Nov. 16.

At the time of Flynt's request, soldiers were entering Afghanistan only in small numbers on highly specialized missions. Now that hundreds of Marines and other military forces are in-country, some restrictions on reporters are being lifted.

Flynt's suit seeks the judge's affirmation that journalists have a constitutional right to document front-line hostilities firsthand, even under specific guidelines.

"The court is persuaded that in an appropriate case there could be a substantial likelihood of demonstrating that under the First Amendment the press is guaranteed a right to gather and report news involving United States military operations on foreign soil subject to reasonable regulations," Friedman wrote.

He also rapped the Pentagon for expressing its commitment to providing press access to military operations "somewhat vaguely and with minimal detail."

Flynt said he considered Friedman's ruling a victory, praising his assertion that the First Amendment could establish the media's right to be present on the battlefield.

Government lawyers had argued that the media have no constitutional right to battlefield access.

The case is Flynt v. Rumsfeld.


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