CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio decried a decision late Thursday afternoon by Cuyahoga County Judge David T. Matia preventing WEWS Channel 5 News from airing a story about Westlake area spa Belladerm providing medical treatment without a license. The spa asked for a temporary restraining order claiming the news reports were false and could harm the business. Judge Matia granted the order and is expected to determine if the story will air at all today.
ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso said, “By issuing an injunction before the tape has been seen by the public, the judge is effectively chilling the speech of news outlets around the area. It tells them that they can report the news only after getting permission.”
Gamso continued, “If the claims that WEWS makes in the story are false, the appropriate time for the company to challenge that is in civil court after the story has aired. By preventing it from airing before the company and the public has even seen the material is a prior restraint of free speech and harms the press’ ability to report the news and, most importantly, the public’s right to know.”
The disputed report by WEWS follows a previous story about Belladerm, which found evidence that the spa was performing medical treatment without a license. The new story was intended to expand the investigation. Belladerm claimed that its business was harmed after the airing of the previous story.
Reports show that the judge, prior to his decision, consulted no attorney from the news station. After issuing the temporary restraining order, news reports quoted Judge Matia as saying that a 24 hour wait was not going to damage the news station and that he did not see a problem with delaying the story.
“Press reports are often very time sensitive and it is crucial for media to be able to report the news in a timely fashion. The public’s right to know information quickly and accurately and the media’s right to report that information are seriously jeopardized when temporary restraining orders like this are granted,” added Gamso.