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Home > SPJ News > SPJ supports Mississippi TV station’s fight to air detention center video

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SPJ supports Mississippi TV station’s fight to air detention center video


1/20/2011


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For Immediate Release:

Contacts:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012, hlimor@spj.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, ascott@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief supporting a TV station in Hattiesburg, Miss., fighting to lift a court order preventing it from airing a videotape of alleged abuse at a youth detention facility.

WDAM, an NBC affiliate, has petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court to allow it to broadcast video it acquired of alleged abuse at the state’s Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center. A former employee at the detention center had obtained the footage and provided it to WDAM.

The video depicts approximately six juveniles in a physical exchange with detention center staff. Prior to airing the footage, WDAM acknowledged to Forrest County Youth Court prosecutors that the station obtained the video.

The prosecution was quickly granted a court injunction on Dec. 30 by the court to prohibit WDAM, or any other individual or news outlet from disclosing, publishing or broadcasting the tape, even though WDAM agreed to blur the juveniles’ faces. The court ruled that WDAM failed to provide evidence of a need in showing the video. The court also concluded that the tapes were obtained unlawfully and that the prior restraint was needed to protect the inmates’ privacy.

“The prosecutor and judge fail to explain how the inmates’ privacy is invaded when their identities and faces are blurred,” SPJ President Hagit Limor said. “This smacks of unlawful prior restraint. If we allow courts to demand ‘evidence’ of a need to show video, next they’ll want proof of a need to tell any story. That would slip sadly into a new arena of the courts restricting press freedoms.”

An amicus brief, authored by law firm Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of a coalition of media companies and non-profits, reinforces the station’s petition to the state’s highest court. The brief asserts that the order is an unconstitutional prior restraint on the station’s ability to publish truthful information of public significance. Also, it reflects WDAM’s argument that the court failed to present evidence that this action will protect confidentiality and serve rehabilitative purposes.

The state Supreme Court has not ruled on the petition or set a hearing date. The brief, which SPJ has joined along with The Associated Press and other journalism organizations, was filed on Jan. 20.

In one of its roles as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined a brief seeking to uphold strict Maryland requirements for defamation claims to protect journalists and lawyers reporting on public records.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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