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Media Organizations Oppose Hulk Hogan's Move to Block the Press From Sex Trial

Newsrooms say there are First Amendment implications to closing the courtroom.


Media organizations have countered a move by Hulk Hogan to block the press from viewing a sex tape and other evidence at the center of his $100 million invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media.

A coalition of newsrooms including First Look Media, BuzzFeed, CNN, AP, Vox Media and an ABC broadcast affiliate owned by Scripps Media has asked a judge to deny Hogan’s request to keep the public out of the courtroom, according to a brief filed Tuesday. (Gawker Media has separately filed a motion against the partial closure of the courtroom.)

The media companies are arguing that the trial, which takes place in Pinellas County, Fla., goes beyond the specific (some would say salacious) details of the case and any move to keep the press out of the courtroom will have much broader First Amendment implications.

“The public is entitled to know what takes place in the courts of the state of Florida, and the First Amendment right … to report what happens in the courtroom to its readers … transcends this case alone,” the motion read.

As to the case itself, the suit could put Gawker Media out of business and, more importantly, put a chill on the press’ ability (and willingness) to report on public figures. The trial, set to begin July 6, gets under way nearly three years after Gawker published a video tape showing Hogan (real name: Terry Gene Bollea) and a friend’s then wife having sex. While the video has been expunged from the site, Bollea has sued Gawker for $100 million for invasion of privacy.

One of the key questions the jury will have to answer is the newsworthiness of publishing a sex tape featuring an already highly visible celebrity, a determination that’s normally left to newsrooms. The plaintiff’s team has reportedly assembled experts in journalism who claim Gawker’s posting of the tape isn’t in the public interest.

First Look, the online news company founded by Pierre Omidyar, started the motion with the other news organizations joining. Vox Media, in case you hadn’t heard, is the parent company of Re/code.

Lynn Oberlander, First Look’s general counsel, had followed Gawker’s case because of its potential impact on news gathering. She worked with the other news organizations to craft a motion over the weekend after Hogan’s legal team asked for a partial closure of the trial.

“There is a possibility that a jury verdict against Gawker would have deep ramifications,” Oberlander said.

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