The Mississippi Supreme Court issued an order Thursday to lift an injunction prohibiting a Hattiesburg television station from airing video images of alleged child abuse at a juvenile detention center.
WDAM received a video in December that depicted approximately six juveniles within the jurisdiction of the Forrest County Youth Court in physical altercations with staff from the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center. The Youth Court enjoined the station from broadcasting the video. Although the station responded with a motion to dissolve, the Youth Court affirmed the injunction on Jan. 11, ruling that WDAM had unlawfully gained possession of the tape because the footage was obtained from a former employee of the center who had unauthorized access to the video. The court further held the airing of the video would jeopardize the juveniles' privacy.
The station filed an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court in which it asserted that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint on its ability to publish information of public significance. The court issued a one page decision Thursday that stated the injunctive relief was vacated. That evening, the station aired the video with the juveniles' faces blurred.
"This was a very important decision for the public," WDAM's Attorney Leonard Van Slyke said. While he noted the importance of airing the video so the public could make their own decisions about the detention center, the significance in this case was the message sent by the Supreme Court "that it will not tolerate media censorship."
The Reporters Committee had joined an amicus brief in this case, arguing that the injunction was unconstitutional.