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Four news media organisations appeal news blackout on terrorism case

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders supports the appeals against a news blackout on an alleged terrorism case which four Canadian and US news organisations brought before the Ontario court of appeal this week. The reporting restrictions, imposed by a Toronto judge, concern the ongoing bail hearings of 17 people who were arrested in 2006 on suspicion of participating in a terrorist plot.

"These four news media are simply asserting the right to inform and be informed," the press freedom organisation said. "It is hard to understand why a court wants to prevent the public from knowing the - possibly legitimate - reasons why some of the suspects in this case were freed on bail. We hope the court of appeal rules in favour of the news media."

The appeals against the reporting restrictions were filed on 4 and 5 March 2008 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the country's largest broadcasting network, CTV television, the "Toronto Star" newspaper and the Associated Press, a US news agency.

Journalists can attend the bail hearings but are forbidden to provide any information about what is discussed at them. Similarly, the media are not allowed to explain why, after being arrested, five of the suspects were released pending trial. Under Canada's criminal code, any accused person can obtain a mandatory publication ban on a bail hearing if they request it.

Lawyers representing the news organisations argued that the media are "surrogates for the public in the courtroom" and have "an obligation to report" on the case, the Associated Press said. The agency's Toronto correspondent, Rob Gillies, explained to Reporters Without Borders that this kind of blackout was not unique to this case. "We just decided to challenge it on this case because it was so high profile," he said.

The authorities announced the arrest of the 17 suspects in June 2006, accusing them of being inspired by al-Qaeda and of trying to obtain three tons of ammonium nitrate for use in terror attacks in southern Ontario and for an attack on the federal parliament.

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