RTDNA files amicus brief in Mississippi court in support of WDAM-TV

The Radio Television Digital News Association has filed an amicus brief in support of Raycom-owned WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, MS, which is battling to remove a court order preventing the NBC affiliate from broadcasting video of alleged abuse at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center.

A former employee at the detention center obtained the video footage of an alleged altercation between detention center guards and about six juvenile inmates and provided the video to WDAM.

On Dec. 30, 2010, the Forrest County Youth Court found that the tapes were obtained unlawfully and that the inmates’ privacy needed to be protected. The court issued an injunction prohibiting WDAM or any news outlet from broadcasting the footage, despite WDAM’s agreement to blur the juveniles’ faces.

“The youth court's order is a clear instance of unconstitutional prior restraint and should be vacated immediately,” said RTDNA Chairman Mark Kraham. “It is imperative that organizations like RTDNA stand up for the right of news organizations to broadcast factual information, lawfully obtained, about a matter of public concern such as the abuse of juveniles at a government detention facility. That right goes to the very heart of our role as watchdogs for the public.”

The amicus brief, filed in support of Raycom's emergency petition to overturn the order, was signed by organizations such as The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Society of Professional Journalists, The Washington Post and National Public Radio.

It argues that the youth court's order is unconstitutional prior restraint and infringement of the editorial process and asserts that the court provided inadequate evidence that restricting broadcast of the video would protect inmates’ confidentiality and help rehabilitative purposes.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has yet to rule on the petition or set a hearing date.