January 21, 2005
Michael Powell Likely to Depart FCC
FCC Chair Michael Powell, who joined the agency in 1998, becoming its head in 2001, may be set to leave long before his term ends in 2007. Sources say he will announce his resignation later today. Powell's leadership has been characterized by battles with the networks over obscenity and indecency, the latest over Howard Stern's comments on talk radio and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" on a 2004 Super Bowl half-time show. Powell also backed the controversial media ownership rule changes many of which the Third Circuit stayed later in the year pending further justification by the agency. (The Third Circuit's page providing links to media ownership rules documents is available here). Powell has also tried to promote digital broadcasting, a move that broadcasting have resisted since most viewers continue to balk at the price of HDTV units.
January 18, 2005
Writ Denied In Newspaper's Request for Records
The Cincinnati Enquirer has been denied its request for an order requiring that the city of Cincinnati's health department release the names and other information about property owners in violation of the city's "no lead" provisions. Since 1994 the city has targeted these owners; in 2004 the newspaper asked the city for a list of names. The city refused, citing HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). On December 30, 2004 the First Appellate District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County) decided in favor of the city, citing the state's Public Records Act (R.C. 149.43) as well as HIPAA. The court recognized that competing interests were at stake, but found that the city met its burden of showing an exception to disclosure by referring to medical information included that could be protected from disclosure under the state's public records act. Since the information was unredacted and no waivers were provided for, the court upheld the city's refusal to disclose at this time. Here is the case: State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Adcock, Ohio Ct. App., No. C-0400064, decided Dec. 30, 2004.
New California Law at Center of Media Debate
A California law that Governor Arnold Schwarnenegger signed on June 7, 2004 that permits some divorce records to be sealed at the request of either party is at the center of a constitutional challenge. Section 2024.6 of the California Family Code allows either party to petition the court to list financial assets and then seal the information. The code section provides that "[t]he request may be made by ex parte application." In billionaire Ron Burkle's pending divorce from wife Janet, attorneys for the investor have invoked this section to seal what observers believe might be some extremely interesting financial information. Lawyers for Mrs. Burkle and some media attorneys, including representatives for the Associated Press and the L. A. Times, have now challenged the move before a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
It's not entirely clear why the Family Code was amended in this way, but the bill passed both houses as "urgency" legislation. Two lawmakers who supported the measure, John Burton of San Francisco and Christine Kehoe of San Diego, have not commented so far. Kehoe has championed privacy rights legislation in the past. Some commentators suggest that wealthy political supporters like Burkle have an interest in protecting information about their assets in case of divorce. Attorneys for Burkle had apparently unsuccessfully tried to seal some financial records shortly before the change in the code.
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