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CNN'S TAPES OF NORIEGA RULED PUBLIC

Transcripts of the Manuel Antonio Noriega prison tapes that led to a free-speech showdown between his defense and CNN are public property, U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler ruled Tuesday.

But he postponed releasing them until Thursday to give Cable News Network time to appeal to the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

His ruling came in an action brought by the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, Post-Newsweek station WPLG-TV of Miami, Gannett Co. Inc. and USA Today, which Gannett owns, demanding access to the transcripts. They contend that the public had a right to know the facts behind a case that tested the constitutional limits of prior restraint on the news media.

CNN attorney Terry Bienstock said the network was disappointed but had not yet decided whether to appeal.

CNN has televised some of the seven tapes and had argued that the recordings, and therefore the transcripts, were its property.

But the judge Tuesday chided CNN for first fighting to televise the tapes and then reversing its position to keep them from being used by other news organizations.

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