Miami station ordered to turn over tourists’ videotape
FLORIDA–In mid-January, the state Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach upheld an order directing Miami television station WPLG must release unbroadcast footage obtained from confidential sources to authorities in Ft. Lauderdale.
The tape, shot by tourists from Poland, contained footage of an altercation between two Ft. Lauderdale police officers and a man they were arresting. It also included footage of the tourists on vacation.
WPLG resisted a subpoena for the tape, arguing that the footage would be used to identify the sources. The tourists had allowed WPLG to duplicate the tape on the condition that their identities remain confidential.
The appeals court upheld the finding of the Circuit Court in Ft. Lauderdale that the state met its burden of showing that the images on the portion of the tape withheld by the station were relevant and crucial to its investigation and that it had exhausted all alternative sources for the information.
Circuit Court Judge Richard Eade held that other witnesses could not be considered alternative sources because the other witnesses’ “perceptions are different. Some saw some of the episode, some saw other portions of it, and since perceptions are so subjective … two eyewitnesses who took the time to make a tape of a portion of the incident could be critical to the state’s decision making process.”
WPLG had argued that the footage sought by the state would contribute little to its investigation, since at best it would provide a tenuous link to three possible witnesses. Since the state already had at least twelve other witnesses, the station argued, it had no need to obtain the footage and identify the sources.
The station voluntarily released both the broadcast and unbroadcast tape of the altercation, but asked the Circuit Court not to order the release of the vacation footage because it would allow the state to identify its confidential sources.
After the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision, WPLG asked the court to certify the case for consideration by the Florida Supreme Court. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus memorandum in support of the station, arguing that the state failed to demonstrate that it had exhausted alternative sources for the information it sought from the tourists, or that it would actually travel to Poland to locate them. (Post-Newsweek Stations Florida, Inc. v. Florida; Media Counsel: Karen Kammer, Miami)