Publisher of GLBT Magazine Cannot Force Disclosure of Anonymous Reporter’s Identity

Dec. 15, 2006

Publisher of GLBT Magazine Cannot Force Disclosure of Anonymous Reporter’s Identity

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The publisher of a Rehoboth Beach, Del.-based magazine for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community withdrew his attempts on Thursday to reveal the identity of GayNewsWorld, the name of an anonymous journalist represented by Public Citizen who reported on publicly known aspects of the publisher’s prior criminal history.

Jeffrey Balk, founder and publisher of the popular biweekly EXP Magazine, had recently entered into an agreement with Ethan Interactive, a large GLBT media conglomerate based in Columbus, Ohio, to sell the magazine. EXP magazine has a circulation of more than 48,000 and is published in 40 cities and 13 states, including the District of Columbia.

GayNewsWorld, the moniker used by an unidentified reporter who issues news reports of interest to the GLBT community, reported on Balk’s 1988 convictions for sexual acts involving minors after they were discussed on the air by a conservative radio talk show host. After learning of the convictions, Ethan Interactive rescinded its agreement to purchase EXP. Balk sued Ethan Interactive in Ohio state court for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and bad faith. Although Balk had not sued GayNewsWorld in any court, his attorneys issued several subpoenas to Verizon demanding that the Internet service provider release GayNewsWorld’s identity.

Like other news sources and reporters, GayNewsWorld issued news releases describing Balk’s convictions and the fact that they had been disclosed by the talk show host. The releases did not report on any issue of Balk’s criminal history or personal life other than acknowledging those convictions disclosed by the radio talk show host. GayNewsWorld’s news releases were reprinted on several different Web sites.

“This case demonstrates how easily the constitutional right to anonymous speech can be threatened,” said Jennifer Soble, an attorney for Public Citizen who defended GayNewsWorld. “Although individuals and companies do not have the right to know the identities of their anonymous critics and internet service providers are not required to disclose them, subpoenas are easily and frequently abused for this purpose. In this case, our client’s First Amendment right to anonymous speech far outweighs any interest Mr. Balk may have in unmasking those who have reported on his past.”

Public Citizen has a record of defending the First Amendment rights of Internet users. To learn more, click here.

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