(CN) – A New York radio talk show host is not liable for defamation in a suit filed by a man who he called a “cold-blooded murderer” on the air, a state appeals court ruled.
John Gisel filed the lawsuit against Clear Channel Communications based on comments by Rochester’s WHAM-AM host Bob Lonsberry during an interview with Gisel’s sister.
Gisel had been acquitted of criminally negligent homicideafter he shot Brandon Haugh to death in a 2007 hunting accident.
During a radio interview, Lonsberry asked Gisel’s sister, Jacqueline Inzinga, “how it felt to have a brother who was a cold-blooded murderer.”
Lonsberry also asked Inzinga whether Gisel “put a notch in the stock of his gun as he kills people?”
The host added that the fatal shooting “could not have been an accident.”
Clear Channel was successful in its trial court argument that Lonsberry’s comments were part of the debate with his listeners over the trial, which had received extensive media coverage in Western New York.
The justices of the Rochester-based Fourth Department New York Appellate Division agreed that Gisel’s defamation lawsuit should be dismissed.
“We agree with the court that defendants met their burden of establishing that each of Lonsberry’s statements at issue constituted a nonactionable expression of pure opinion,” they wrote.
“In addition, some of Lonsberry’s callers used harsh and intemperate language, and the tone of Lonsberry’s statements was obviously intended to be caustic and confrontational, rather than factual,” the justices added.