Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Turkish Singer Facing Trial Over Statements Regarding Turkish-Kurd Conflict

The BBC reports that singer Bulent Ersoy is defending her remarks concerning Turkey's long standing differences with the Kurds. Ms. Ersoy told a television audience a few months ago that Turkey should seek a non-military solution to its dispute. She is now facing trial. Read more here.

September 24, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

News of the World: "Sorry" For Publishing Extracts From Kate McCann's Diaries

News of the World has apologized formally for publishing extracts from Kate McCann's diaries. The paper said it believed that it had Dr. McCann's permission for doing so, but now understands that it did not. News of the World says it will make a contribution to a fund devoted to the search for Madeline McCann. Read more here.

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Judge Alec

Alec Baldwin apparently calls the family court system a lot of things in his new book A Promise To Ourselves, and they're not pretty. He also explains that infamous (leaked) voice message to his young daughter, Ireland (remember that he called her "a rude, thoughtless pig." He says he was angry. All righty, then). Read more here.

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Letting Your Fingers Do the Talking Should Be Cheaper

According to the AP, EU regulators say texting ought to be cheaper, and they're going to try to make certain of it. They want to slash the current average cost of a text message, which is about 29 cents, in about half (to 16 cents). They're also out to lower the costs of other types of communications. Read more here.

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Dan Rather's Lawsuit Against CBS Proceeding

Part of Dan Rather's wrongful dismissal lawsuit against CBS is proceeding. Read more here.

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

District Court Is Allowing IIED Claim Against CNN To Move Forward

A U. S. district court is allowing the estate of a woman who killed herself after completing a telephone interview for the Nancy Grace show to pursue an IIED claim against CNN and Ms. Grace. Melinda Duckett, the mother of a small boy who disappeared in 2006, taped an interview with Ms. Grace on or about September 7, 2006. On September 8, shortly before the interview was televised, Ms. Duckett killed herself.

The Plaintiffs, Melinda Duckett's parents and minor sister and Melinda Duckett's Estate, allege that the conduct of the Defendants in procuring Ms. Duckett's appearance on the “Nancy Grace” show, the manner in which Ms. Duckett was questioned on the show, and the Defendants’ decision to air the show following Ms. Duckett's suicide, are all actionable under state law. More specifically, the Plaintiffs allege in their Complaint that the Defendants promised and represented to Melinda Duckett and her personal attorney that her appearance on the show might assist in efforts to find T.D., while their true intention was to “ambush” Melinda Duckett with accusations, questions and verbal assaults intimating that Ms. Duckett had murdered her own child.

The Complaint further alleges that Nancy Grace and/or her associates and subordinates and producers of the “Nancy Grace” show made a false statement of material fact to Melinda Duckett when they knowingly and fraudulently misrepresented the true purpose of Ms. Duckett's appearance on the show, and that at the time such fraudulent misrepresentations were made, the Defendants knew that Melinda Duckett was in a severe state of mental anguish and distress. The Plaintiffs allege that despite this knowledge, the Defendants ignored the probability that their conduct would cause Ms. Duckett severe emotional distress and subjected her to outrageous interrogation, fist-pounding, and veiled accusations that she was responsible for her child's disappearance and death. The Complaint further alleges that this deliberate and outrageous conduct intentionally caused Ms. Duckett severe emotional distress and either caused, or was the proximate cause, of Melinda Duckett's suicide.

With respect to Ms. Duckett's family, the Complaint alleges that the Defendants’ decision to air the interview with Ms. Duckett following her suicide as well as to reference and/or re-broadcast the interview was in malicious and contumacious disregard to inflicting severe emotional distress and damage on Ms. Duckett's family. The Complaint further alleges that as a result of the airing of the Melinda Duckett interview, her family was subjected to media and public harassment, as well as debilitating emotional distress.

The plaintiffs originally filed in state court but the defendants removed to federal court.

The Plaintiffs’ first claim, which was brought by the Estate of Melinda Duckett under Florida's Wrongful Death Act, Fla. Stat. §768.19, is premised on a theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants deliberately and intentionally convinced Melinda Duckett to appear on the “Nancy Grace” show for the sole purpose of badgering and verbally assaulting Ms. Duckett, and inferring that she killed her child, in order to increase broadcast ratings. Under Florida's Wrongful Death Act, the decedent's estate can only recover where “the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, … and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued… .” Fla. Stat. §768.19. Therefore, the Plaintiffs can only proceed on this claim if they can establish an underlying cause of action for which Melinda Duckett could have recovered had she survived.

In order to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Florida, the Plaintiffs must show: “(1) the wrongdoer's conduct was intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct was outrageous; (3) the conduct caused emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress was severe.” ...Florida has established a very high standard for claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and only in extreme circumstances will courts uphold such claims. “Liability has been found only where the conduct has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” ... Emphasizing the stringent requirements of Florida law governing this tort is the fact that only ten (10) reported cases can be found in which a judgment for damages has actually been entered in favor of a successful plaintiff, and affirmed on appeal. Pleading a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress is one thing, avoiding summary judgment or prevailing at trial is quite another....Here, we are dealing only with a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleadings, which must be considered in light of the extremely lenient “notice pleading” standard applied in federal courts....
The Defendants argue that even if they did engage in the conduct the Plaintiffs accuse them of, it does not rise to the level of “outrageousness” sufficient to establish a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Florida law. This may well be true, however at this point in the litigation, the record is insufficiently developed to determine whether the Defendants’ alleged conduct amounted to extremely outrageous behavior such that the Plaintiffs could recover. In particular, the Plaintiffs have alleged that at the time the Defendants secured Ms. Duckett's appearance on the show, the Defendants were very much aware that Ms. Duckett was already suffering emotional and psychological stress from the disappearance of her son, and at least one Florida court has recognized that in similar situations, “[t]he potential for severe emotional distress is enormously increased.” Williams v. City of Minneola, 575 So. 2d 683, 691 (Fla. 5th Dist. Ct. App. 1991). Thus, where the alleged conduct on the part of the Defendants may not be considered outrageous when the victim is of ordinary emotional and mental status, such conduct may become actionable (and liability may exist) when the alleged victim suffers from known emotional and/or psychological trauma.
Given the lack of any record evidence at this point concerning Ms. Duckett's mental state and the Defendants’ level of knowledge about it, as well as the absence of any evidence
concerning what exactly was said to Ms. Duckett both during the initial conversations with the Defendants’ producers and during the taping of the “Nancy Grace” show, the Court simply cannot yet reach a decision as to whether the Defendants’ conduct was “outrageous” under Florida law. Determining on the pleadings as a matter of law whether Defendants’ alleged conduct is actionable for intentional infliction of emotional distress would therefore be premature.
The Plaintiffs’ second claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is brought on behalf of Melinda Duckett's parents and minor sibling and is predicated on the Defendants’ decision to air the telephone interview with Ms. Duckett on the “Nancy Grace” show hours after Ms. Duckett's suicide, and to continue to air report on and/or air the interview on several other occasions. According to the Complaint, the Defendants’ actions have caused Ms. Duckett's family severe and continued emotional distress for which they have sought psychological counseling. The Defendants again argue that this claim should not go forward because the alleged conduct is not sufficiently outrageous to be actionable under Florida law. This presents a much closer question because, whatever their attitude was toward the Plaintiffs, the Defendants had a business purpose protected by the First Amendment in going forward with the broadcasts after Melinda Duckett's death. However, just as with the claim by Ms. Duckett's Estate, the Court finds that the family's claim cannot be disposed of at the motion to dismiss stage. As an initial matter, there is no dispute that the Plaintiffs have alleged their prima facie case. And, at least one court in Florida has recognized a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress brought by a family based on a the treatment of a deceased family member....While the facts in that decision may prove to be more egregious than the facts in this case, the Court cannot make that determination without any record evidence. As it stands, Florida courts have shown “a particular solicitude for the emotional vulnerability of survivors regarding improper behavior toward the dead body of a loved one, [as well as] special deference … to family feelings where rights involving dead bodies are concerned… .” ...When dealing with survivors of a decedent, “behavior which in other circumstances might be merely insulting, frivolous, or careless becomes indecent, outrageous and intolerable.” ...Therefore, and in light of the extremely lenient notice pleading standard which the Court must follow at this stage, the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count II shall be denied.
The case is Estate of Duckett v. CNN, No. 5:06-cv-444-Oc-10GRJ,
36 Med.L.Rptr. 2210 (2008).

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Big Sell

Why does David Hasselhoff drink Coke on America's Got Talent? Why are the contestants on Project Runway making couture out of car parts? (Frankly, ick.) NPR's Neda Ulaby examines the next step in product placement--product integration. But here's my question--is this idea really that new? I remember the days when stars hawked products on live tv in between segments, and some DVDs of old time tv include the original commercials (with the actors--try out the Dick van Dyke Show DVDs which feature Rob and Laura in some Cheer Commercial spots).

September 23, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Copies of Photos of Jamie Lynn Feeding Maddie May Result In Child Porn Charges

Fox News reports that apparently someone has made off with copies of photos showing Jamie Lynn Spears breastfeeding her infant Maddie, photos taken by dad Casey Aldridge on his digital camera, and the feds have instituted an investigation that might end in federal child pornography charges for whoever made the unauthorized copies and may have tried to sell them. Read more here.

September 22, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

University Hospital Employees Photograph Patients, Post Photos on MySpace

The AP reports that the University of New Mexico Hospital has fired two workers for taking using cell phone cameras to snap photographs of patients and then to post them on a MySpace page. The Hospital administration has indicated that such actions are a breach of patient privacy. The photographs, from which identifiable details had been removed, have been taken down. The hospital administration said that only the employee's "online friends" could get access to the page on which the photos were posted. Read more here and here.

September 22, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Even After Ofcom's New Junk Food Ad Regulatory Scheme, Complaints Remain

A consumer group complains that British children are still consuming junk food ads, even after Ofcom's new regulations. But advertisers respond that some ads, which don't target youngsters, are necessary to support popular programs. Read more here.

September 22, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Photographer Breached Dodi, Diana's Privacy

Jason Fraser will pay a fine for taking photographs of the late Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana while they were vacationing, thus breaching their privacy, a French appellate court has ruled. The court overturned an earlier decision by a lower court, which had held that the photos were of the couple in a public place. Read more here.

September 22, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)