Court Clears NYC TV Station of Defamation

     BROOKLYN (CN) — A Tribune TV station in New York did not defame a man who was falsely identified as a suspect in an attempted rape, a state appeals court ruled.
     Arcadio Rodriguez sued WPIX (Channel 11 in New York City) and Daily News LP for publishing his photograph and stating that police suspected him in connection with an attempted rape.
     Rodriguez said that while WPIX finally reported that someone else had been arrested, his own photograph appeared in the final report as well.
     WPIX sought dismissal, saying its reports were absolutely privileged because they concerned a police investigation.
     WPIX produced an email from the police department seeking help in finding a man who had thrown a woman to the ground in an alley and tried to rape her. That email contained a photo of Rodriguez.
     The Kings County Supreme Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and on Sept. 21, the Brooklyn-based Second District New York Appellate Division agreed.
     “Here, the Supreme Court properly determined that the plaintiff’s allegation that the subject news reports were published without privilege was not a fact at all, because WPIX’s evidentiary submissions established that the news reports were absolutely privileged pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 74,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.
     The privilege extends to a report on an “official proceeding,” such as a criminal investigation.
     “The privilege is not defeated by the NYPD’s error in identifying the plaintiff by his photograph as the assailant,” the court added. “The statute was designed precisely to protect the publisher of a fair and true report from liability for just such an error and to relieve it of any duty to expose the error through its own investigation.”
     Rodriguez’s attorney Emil Samuels, with Kelner and Kelner, told Courthouse News in an email that he “respectfully disagree(s)” with the ruling.
     “Unfortunately, the court found that a newspaper can unquestioningly publish information sent anonymously from a government email account, without making any effort to verify the source or accuracy of the information,” Samuels wrote. “The court also found that a publisher has no obligation to remove an article known to be inaccurate from its website. We are reviewing the decision and are considering our further remedies, including making a motion to the Court of Appeals.”

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