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Television station airs controversial footage after court lifts injunction

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         NORTH CAROLINA         Prior Restraints         Aug 1, 2001    

Television station airs controversial footage after court lifts injunction

  • A district court lifts a temporary restraining order to permit a news broadcast of allegedly mistreated nursing home residents.

WLOS-TV in Asheville, N.C., aired footage surreptitiously recorded in a nursing home after a judge ruled news outlets have a constitutional right to publish information without direction from the courts.

The operators of the Pleasant Cove Assisted Living Facility complained the footage violated the privacy of their residents by showing some of them unclothed. In their complaint, Havon, Inc. said the news crew illegally entered the facility and asked the Buncombe County District Court to prevent WLOS from airing the footage. In addition to the permanent injunction, Havon, Inc. asked the court to seize the videotape and award money damages to the residents.

A judge issued a temporary restraining order on July 13, but the order was lifted on July 25.

In early May, a reporter gained access to the facility with the help of two employees and recorded residents who were allegedly mistreated.

WLOS aired some of the footage that night, featuring a Pleasant Cove resident with diabetes who suffered from severely swollen feet. The footage also showed another patient in an adult diaper that had not been changed in several hours.

Judge Earl Fowler ruled on July 25 that the court did not have grounds to bar WLOS from airing the footage, noting that the press has a constitutional right to disseminate information without interference. Fowler, however, barred the station from broadcasting any footage of the residents’ medical records because they were private. He also chastised the station for failing to report possible abuse to state authorities, citing a state law requirement that anyone with knowledge of possible abuse or neglect to notify authorities.

Since the broadcast, the county Department of Social Services has cited Pleasant Cove for violating the residents’ rights and has downgraded the facility’s license to “provisional.”

(Havon, Inc. v. Chesapeake Television, Inc.; Media counsel: Gary Rowe, Kelly & Rowe, Asheville, N.C.) AG

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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