Judge says KTRK can air information on televangelist

Houston Chronicle/March 3, 2005
By Roma Khanna

KTRK Television cannot be prevented from broadcasting information about a televangelist, a Harris County judge ruled Thursday, overturning an earlier order by another judge.

State District Judge Kent Sullivan found that Channel 13 can air information contained in a 15-page document written by the law firm that represents Benny Hinn, leader of the World Healing Center Church.

The firm, Brewer, Anthony, Middlebrook and Dunn, had won a temporary retraining order barring the station from airing information in the document, claiming it was protected by attorney-client privilege.

The television station, however, argued that the First Amendment protects the press from such restrictions.

"Prior restraints on the press strike at the heart of our democracy," said Charles "Chip" Babcock, who represents KTRK, during a hearing Thursday.

Reporter Ted Oberg was doing a two-part series on Hinn, who recently held a crusade at the Toyota Center, when the founder of a nonprofit that investigates televangelists gave him the document. It contains the church's response to questions from the IRS.

Before the second story aired on Feb. 24, the law firm sought a temporary restraining order to prevent KTRK from broadcasting any information from the document. State District Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod found that attorney-client privilege outweighed KTRK's right to broadcast the information.

The second story aired but did not contain any information from the document. Oberg testified KTRK has no immediate plans to air another story about Hinn.

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