Miss. TV station appeals judge’s order on video

Published 12:40 am Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Hattiesburg television station has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to allow it to broadcast video it acquired of alleged abuse at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center.

Forrest County Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail this week barred WDAM from showing the video. McPhail ruled WDAM failed to provide evidence of a need in showing the video.

The Supreme Court had not ruled Friday on the petition or set a hearing date.

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Leonard Van Slyke, a First Amendment attorney representing WDAM, said Friday that a supportive brief was being prepared and numerous national media organizations — including the Associated Press — have agreed to sign on to it.

WDAM has reported that a former employee of the detention center said the video shows alleged abuse of juveniles at the hands of guards. The station has reported that the sheriff’s office confirms one guard was fired in 2009 for beating a juvenile, but so far no charges have been filed.

Van Slyke said that WDAM, in its petition filed Thursday, contends McPhail’s order is an “unconstitutional prior restraint” on it’s ability to “publish truthful information of public significance.”

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

Van Slyke earlier said the tapes are a matter of public interest and falls under the station’s First Amendment right in airing them.

McPhail had said the video would jeopardize juvenile privacy, while Van Slyke said privacy will be protected.

The petition says WDAM had agreed to not disclose the identities of the juveniles involved and to “blur” the faces of the juveniles in the video to protect their identities.