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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Clear Channel Cincy: No Libel, We Have Free Speech

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Clear Channel radio empire contends the First Amendment protects it in a federal libel lawsuit filed by a California trucking company, Con-Way Inc. The transport firm was the subject of on-air disparagement during a 700, WLW-AM talk show last September.

The dispute involves comments made by Eric "Bubba Bo" Boulanger, who told his American Truckin' Network audience that somebody at Con-Way had cooked the books, which was an implication of financial shenanigans.

Separately, Clear Channel was the subject of a protest in Columbus Monday for dropping the progressive talk format there. The Cincinnati libel case grew out of its 50,000-watt outlet in SW Ohio, a station that has a reputation for unrestrained comment seemingly designed to stir controversy.

''There are some, shall we say, irregularities in the accounting at the company. What they call cooking the books,'' Con-Way quotes Boulanger as saying on September, 23, 2006 during his overnight talk and call-in show. There were other comments the company contends were false, malicious and reckless.

Boulanger has since left the station. In a court filing last month, Clear Channel said it is not the proper party to the lawsuit. The company also contends Free Speech guarantees under the U.S. Constitution are broad enough to make the remarks libel-proof. ''All statements complained of by Plaintiffs are privileged under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and laws of Ohio because said statements contained fair comment on matters of public concern and interest,'' Clear Channel's lawyers, D. Dave O'Guinn and Louise S. Brock of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP in Cincinnati, said in their court filing.

They also said: "Plaintiffs are public figures or limited purpose public figures and cannot recover without clear and convincing proof of actual malice." And: "A statement of opinion on matters of public concern is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Constitution and laws of Ohio."

Clear Channel, a San Antonio company with some 700 radio stations, has been under fire for taking progressive and Democratic leaning talk shows off the air. Some view the broadcaster as being interested in Free Speech that makes money, not Free Speech for enhancing political discourse.

No trial date is set for Ohio libel case, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott in Cincinnati. (1:06-cv-697, Southern District of Ohio).

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