Court allows Boston TV station to air autopsy report

Prior Restraints | Feature | October 5, 2007

Oct. 5, 2007  ·   A Massachusetts Appeals Court judge Thursday overturned a preliminary injunction that prevented a Boston TV station from airing a story on the autopsy results for two local firefighters.

"The preliminary injunction was not justified under any criteria which overrides the heavy presumption against prior restraint on free speech," Judge Andrew Grainger wrote in his decision.

On Wednesday, the Boston firefighters' union asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Merita Hopkins to stop WHDH-TV (Channel 7) from reporting on the autopsies, which revealed that the two firefighters had alcohol or illegal drugs in their systems when they died putting out a restaurant fire Aug. 29.

"This was a classic example of prior restraint so it was surprising," said Jordana B. Glasgow, the attorney for WHDH-TV.

During the hearing Thursday, Glasgow told the court that other media outlets, including competing TV stations, had already published the story. Nonetheless, the firefighter's union urged the judge to let the injunction stand, but Grainger was not persuaded.

"Even were I to conclude . . . that this is an interest which is recognized by the law as justifying a limitation on free speech, the plaintiffs have not sustained their burden to demonstrate that such an interest is furthered by preventing one additional television station from broadcasting information that all other stations, newspapers, radios and on-line media have disseminated and continue to disseminate."

(Boston Firefighters Union, IAFF, Local 718 v. WHDH TV, Channel 7; Media counsel: Jordana Glasgow, Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge, Boston) -- Jennifer Koons

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