Judge Sides with WHDH in Free-Speech Case

Thanks to a court ruling Thursday, WHDH Boston was permitted to broadcast a news story Thursday night about local firefighters who died in the line of duty and had either excessive alcohol or illegal drugs in their systems.

Late Thursday afternoon, Appeals Court Judge Andrew Grainger lifted an injunction that had barred the Sunbeam-owned station from airing a story mentioning the results of the firefighters’ autopsies. The NBC affiliate aired the story that night.

The firefighters -- Paul Cahill, 55, and Warren Payne, 53 -- died in a West Roxbury, Mass., fire Aug. 29. Because autopsy reports are not public documents in Massachusetts, media outlets cited confidential sources in their stories.

On Wednesday, a judge sided with a firefighters’ union, which claimed that the station should not be allowed to air the story for privacy reasons. WHDH lawyers argued that the ruling was an infringement of their free speech. One day later, Grainger overturned the ruling, mentioning that other news outfits had already reported the story. Daily newspapers TheBoston Globe and Boston Herald were among those that had already run the story.

“We’re delighted,” said Sunbeam president Edmund Ansin. “We simply cannot have judges telling the media what we can report, and telling the public what they have the right to know.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.