Miss. court: Media can support TV station case

Published 2:23 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Mississippi Supreme Court will allow about three dozen news organizations and media trade associations to file legal papers in support of a Hattiesburg television station.

WDAM-TV contends it should be allowed to broadcast video that it says shows abuse at a local juvenile detention center. WDAM asked the Supreme Court on Jan. 13 to lift the ban on its broadcast ordered by Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail.

McPhail barred the station from broadcasting the video because he said it would jeopardize juvenile privacy.

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WDAM, which said privacy will be protected, argued in court papers that McPhail’s order prevents it from broadcasting “truthful information of public significance.”

The other organizations filed a request Thursday asking to file legal arguments supporting WDAM. The Supreme Court granted that request Friday in a one-page order signed by Justice George C. Carlson Jr.

The news organizations wanting to support WDAM include The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters.

Those organizations said in court papers that McPhail’s ruling, if permitted to stand, would impose unfair limits on journalists in the state and could be used to stifle organizations across the country.

The organizations argued McPhail’s ruling “would handicap movants’ ability to investigate and publish truthful, lawfully obtained information concerning matters of significant public concern, particularly matters involving alleged official misconduct at publicly funded correctional institutions.”

WDAM has reported that a former employee of the detention center said the video shows juveniles being abused by guards. The station has reported that the sheriff’s office confirmed firing one guard accused of beating a juvenile in 2009, though so far no charges have been filed in the case.

The station says neither the youth court nor the state has shown any reason to stop WDAM’s use of the video.

The justices gave the Forrest County Youth Court until Tuesday to respond to WDAM’s complaint.