WALA’s fight to get the Mobile Police Department to release police body camera video from an 18-month-old pepper-spraying incident continues, and its outcome could mean big changes no matter how the judge rules.
The station’s ownership, Meredith Corp., filed suit against MPD after reporters requested video of an incident from Sept. 2, 2016, in which an officer pepper-sprayed a group of teenagers engaged in the traditional painting of the cannon at the intersection of Government Street and Airport Boulevard following McGill-Toolen’s victory over Murphy High School earlier that evening. The officer was later disciplined by MPD for improperly using the spray.
WALA has been trying to get video of the incident ever since and has repeatedly run into roadblocks from the city. On March 7, Meredith’s lawyers filed the latest memorandum aimed at shooting down the city’s arguments for keeping the footage under wraps.
In essence it breaks down to MPD arguing the video is part of an investigation. In this situation, WALA argues there is no investigation, so therefore the video should be public. The city has also argued that having to provide video every time a media outlet asks for it would become an onerous task far outstripping the department’s resources.
Circuit Judge Rick Stout, who is hearing the case, has spoken openly about balancing the public’s right to know against the department’s ability to meet such demands while still performing its basic duties. The case is set to go to a bench trial before Stout.
Fears that producing public records for reporters would bog down the workings of MPD also seem like the usual whining we hear statewide anytime public entities don’t want to give up records. Still, there’s been some talk about the department ditching body cams if they lose the case.
For its part, WALA News Director Scott Flannigan says the station is pushing the suit because they believe it is important, not in any effort to misuse the video or create unnecessary work for the department.
“We are focused on responsible use of body cam video for public accountability and public safety under the open records statute. We are not focused on other public records issues at this time,” he wrote in response to questions from Lagniappe.
iHeartMedia, owner of the top five radio stations in the Mobile market, declared bankruptcy last week, joining Cumulus Media, which filed in February.
That means nine of the city’s top 10 radio stations are currently being operated by companies in bankruptcy. Among the top 10 stations, as ranked by Nielsen Audio, only locally owned Bigler Broadcasting, which runs FMTalk 106.5, is not among those run by the two bankrupt conglomerates.
In total, iHeart operates 850 stations nationwide and Cumulus 445. Both filed for Chapter 11 protection and currently no stations are supposed to be affected by the restructuring. According to industry coverage of the bankruptcies, both companies have faced years of falling revenue as terrestrial radio continues to lose listeners to music services such as Spotify and Pandora.