Former CEO Sues Over Anonymous Web Posts

Indy News Sites Ordered To Give Identifying Information

A Marion County judge has ruled that news outlets can be ordered to reveal identifying information about anonymous commenters who post on online forums.

The move was prompted by a defamation lawsuit brought by Jeffrey Miller, the former CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, who retired in 2008 after 15 years with the organization.

Miller's attorney claims anonymous posters on the websites of the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis Business Journal, along with TheIndyChannel.com, attacked his client over the perceived misuse of Junior Achievement funds.

"You want to know who is responsible? JEFF MILLER. He is the most greedy man I've ever known," a commenter identified as Indeed posted on the IBJ's site.

"If you accuse somebody of committing a crime of thievery, that is defamation, and we believe that is what they are saying," said Miller's attorney, Kevin Betz. "The Internet is not a license to defame people and treat them in a mean-spirited way that harms them psychologically and economically."

The IBJ has surrendered information that could lead to the anonymous posters but the Indianapolis Star has refused.

"Our practice is not to reveal names," editor Dennis Ryerson said in a statement. "We've long had a practice of protecting sources at all levels. If all outlets give up the names, does that create a chilling effect on the marketplace of ideas?"

Robert Katz, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, said the judge's ruling could hurt the free flow of information.

"If people know that their names might be turned over, they are less likely to share information, and so we are less likely to learn about bad stuff that is going on," he said.

Miller is also asking for WRTV to give up the names of certain anonymous posters. A judge's ruling concerning TheIndyChannel.com is expected within the next two weeks. WRTV is still weighing its legal options.