RTDNA joins fight to lift gag order in case of missing Alabama student

November 20, 2019 01:30

RTDNA has joined a lawsuit seeing to overturn a gag order issued by an Alabama judge in a kidnapping case against a man charged in the disappearance of a missing college student.

“The public has a right and a responsibility to understand what investigators and the state attorneys are doing in this complex and disturbing case,” says Dan Shelley, Executive Director of RTDNA. “This gag rule impacts their ability to hold those managing this case accountable for their actions.”

The gag order issued by Lee County District Judge Russell Bush in the case of Ibraheem Yazeed bans lawyers and potential witnesses from speaking with reporters. Yazeed is charged in the disappearance of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard, stepdaughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris. Blanchard was last seen on Oct. 23 in Auburn, Alabama.

RTDNA believes this order is far-reaching and unconstitutionally broad.

“RTDNA joined this suit alongside several of our corporate members, local news outlets and state press groups because preventing anyone connected with the case – including the victim’s family and anyone who might have information – from talking with the news media shuts out the public and limits the family’s search for answers,” says Shelley.
Excerpt from the motion: “it should not be overlooked that…the whereabouts of the alleged victim is still unknown and the Gag Order would prohibit communications with the media intended to try to seek their [potential witnesses’] assistance in learning the whereabouts of the victim or in encouraging potential witnesses to her whereabouts to come forward.”

According to RTDNA member Scott Duff, News Director at Alabama-based WSFA News, “we have done our best to cover this story following Yazeed’s arrest. The fact still remains Aniah Blanchard disappeared on October 23rd – after stopping at a gas station in Auburn to buy to potato chips. We are now moving on 4 weeks since she was last seen. No one has answers and until she is found, we need to be able to report on this story with full resources. We need trusted, confirmed information to report on this story that is of considerable local, regional and national interest.”

A hearing in the suit to lift the gag order has been set for December 4.

“Our members most often hear about our vocal defense of journalism and press freedom in the face of national skepticism,” says Shelley. “However, we pay particular attention to on-the-ground issues affecting local news outlets and their ability to seek and report the truth. This case is just one of nearly 30 we’ve participated in this year from local courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force is committed to speaking out on behalf of journalists and the public in issues related to freedom of the press. The task force provides a vigorous defense of the First Amendment andnews media access and combats the growing vitriol toward journalism and journalists in this divisive political and ideological environment.