Court decides two press cases

Despite escalated attacks on the press by conservatives and others, the news media may be getting an even break on First Amendment rights, Monitor legal correspondent Curtis J. Sitomer reports.

The latest rulings by the Supreme Court broke both ways. It rebuffed arguments by the Providence Journal that its constitutional rights were violated by being forced to publish what it feels is questionable advertising. At the same time, the court refused to change an appeals court ruling that stood behind Alabama's public television commission. The commission refused to broadcast a controversial program about the beheading of a Saudi Arabian princess.

In the newspaper case, the court paved the way for further proceedings on the amount of damages the paper might owe for anticompetitive practices. The Justice Department argued that newspapers don't enjoy an antitrust exemption for their advertising decisions. In the so-called ''Death of a Princess'' case, the court refused to overturn a federal district court ruling that a public television station's editorial decisions (including the one not to broadcast ''Death of Princess'') are protected by the First Amendment. Earlier, a federal district court in Texas reached a different conclusion, holding that public TV stations are public forums and cannot deny access to producers.

In other action, the high court ruled 6 to 3 that police who lie on the witness stand may not be sued for damages by convicted defendants; agreed to decide whether police need a search warrant before they may conduct a chemical analysis of a suspected illicit drug; and turned down, for the fourth time, a case that might resolve possible liability of insurance companies in claims against asbestos companies.

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