SeaWorld joins fight to keep killer whale attack videos from media

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CNN's caption states: "Animal trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed last month at SeaWorld Orlando."

CNN reports SeaWorld and the family of Dawn Brancheau have joined forces in a legal action and won an injunction preventing footage surrounding Brancheau’s death from being released to media (aka the public).

Brancheau, a trainer, was killed Feb. 24 in Orlando when an orca (aka killer whale) pulled her underwater, and drowned her.  According to CNN’s report, two SeaWorld cameras shot video of Brancheau’s death, but the actual footage only shows Brancheau after she was pulled underwater.

SeaWorld clearly has a conflict of interest as they are potentially liable for civil, or even possible criminal negligence, depending on the forensic investigation and analysis of the footage. So, seeking the high ground under the banner of “privacy rights” for the victim’s family is dubious and self-serving at best, in iMediaEthics’ view.

Considering that, as CBSNews reports, the whale that killed Brancheau is responsible for, or at least involved in, two other deaths, SeaWorld has a lot at stake.

The whale that killed Brancheau, Tilikum, is associated with both a 1991 death of a trainer at a park in British Columbia and the 1999 death of a man who sneaked into SeaWorld, CBSNews reported.

Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation, said in a Chicago Breaking News report that “it is important that outside organizations be able to examine investigative material such as the video so they can verify statements made by SeaWorld executives, witnesses and law enforcement officials.  ‘How do we make sure that the state doesn’t turn a blind eye to mistakes that might have been made at SeaWorld?’ Petersen said.”

As the Seattle Times reports, the media will now only possibly receive SeaWorld footage as “public records” after the investigation concludes.

Because the tapes were given by SeaWorld to law enforcement officials, as CBSNews reported, the tapes fall into the category of public records in Florida. Other materials related to Brancheau’s death have already been made publicly available, including 911 calls and witness statements.

Brancheau’s death is the third time Tilikum has been investigated in a killing, yet SeaWorld is considering keeping the whale in SeaWorld’s shows.

By keeping the footage of Tilikum away from the media’s independent investigations and, also keeping Tilikum at SeaWorld on display, the Brancheau family may get their wish for privacy, but it will be granted, in iMediaEthics’ view, at the expense of public safety and freedom of the press.

iMediaEthics has e-mailed SeaWorld’s press relations asking about the conflict of interest and will report any response.

UPDATE: 03/24/10 11:51 AM EST: The Orlando Sentinel reported that Dawn Brancheau’s family and SeaWorld presented arguments this morning for keeping SeaWorld footage of Dawn Brancheau’s death private, but the judge did not make a ruling.

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SeaWorld joins fight to keep killer whale attack videos from media

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