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Court refuses to restrain "60 Minutes II" broadcast

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  1. Prior Restraint
Court refuses to restrain "60 Minutes II" broadcast 05/03/99 NORTH CAROLINA--In late April, a federal judge in Charlotte refused to…

Court refuses to restrain “60 Minutes II” broadcast

05/03/99

NORTH CAROLINA–In late April, a federal judge in Charlotte refused to stop CBS’s telecast of a hidden-camera report about a psychiatric hospital group that is alleged to have condoned dangerous conditions and falsified records.

In a bench ruling, federal District Judge Graham Mullen denied the hospital group’s request for a temporary restraining order to block the telecast. Mullen denied the request six hours before the program was to air.

The Associated Press reported that Mullen prefaced his ruling by saying he was concerned that laws might have been broken in assembling the hidden-camera report. According to CBS attorney Jay Ward Brown, Mullen expressed sympathy for the hospital group and indicated that a wiretap violation may have occurred.

However, Mullen indicated that he had no choice but to deny the prior restraint. The AP reported that Mullen stated, “Certainly, the press is not free to commit a crime or set people out to commit a crime. But even if they did, it does not give me the opportunity to shut it down. … It appears to this court that the Supreme Court has elevated press powers to the point where prior restraint is all but impossible to obtain, even when the press sets out to commit a crime.”

On April 20, 1999, Charter Behavioral Health Systems, the nation’s largest chain of psychiatric hospitals, accused CBS of violating patient confidentiality by sending a worker into a Charter facility in Charlotte with a tiny camera on his eyeglasses. Charter filed a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order requesting that CBS be prevented from broadcasting the “60 Minutes II” investigative report, entitled “Unsafe Haven.”

The clinical worker, Terrance Johnson, allegedly documented cases of falsified records and patient mistreatment for the CBS report on “60 Minutes II.” Johnson is a licensed social worker who spent eight weeks working at a Charter hospital as a mental health technician.

Charter argued the program would violate patients’ privacy. CBS argued the network was shielded from prior restraint by the First Amendment. The network also said the patients’ identities were protected. CBS claimed that the report needed to be telecast because it raised important questions about the quality of care at psychiatric hospitals.

Charter attorneys said they were unsure whether they would appeal the ruling. (Charter Behavioral Health Systems v. CBS; Media Counsel: Lee Levine and Jay Ward Brown, Washington, D.C.)