News Station Averts Suit by Disciplined Child Doc

     (CN) – A television news network that reported on a pediatrician’s sex with her patient did not imply that the patient was a child, the Texas Supreme Court ruled by divide vote.
     After disciplining Minda Lao Toledo in August 2012, the Texas Medical Board issued a press release stating that 51-year-old Port Arthur physician “behaved unprofessionally when she engaged in sexual contact with a patient and became financially or personally involved with a patient in an inappropriate manner.”
     Though the board identified Toledo as a physician, KBMT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Beaumont, specified in its Sept. 10 broadcast on the story that she was a pediatrician.
     In both that broadcast and two repeats the next day, KBMT offered no details about the patient. The fourth broadcast finally specified that the patient was an adult.
     Indeed, Toledo says the patient in question was her 60-year-old boyfriend, for whom she bought testosterone and human growth hormone and administered the injections for his convenience.
     She said the boyfriend had reported her to the board because he was “soured by the recent breakup,” but that the news reports led viewers to believe she had sex with a child.
     Though an appellate panel found that Toledo had a case for defamation, the Texas Supreme Court reversed 6-3 on June 17.
     “We hold that the truth of a media report of official proceedings of public concern must be measured against the proceedings themselves, not against information outside the proceedings,” Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for the majority. “The media may report on the proceedings themselves without independently investigating the matters involved.”
     Hecht added that “a statement need not be perfectly true; as long as it is substantially true, it is not false.”
     According to the press release, Toledo’s discipline included completing ethics training, passing a professionalism course and paying a $3,000 penalty.
     Hecht stated that a listener would know that Toledo would not receive such a “slap on the wrist” penalty for having sex with a child.
     “Any ordinary listener would have known that a network television broadcast about a physician’s criminal sexual abuse of a child would have said so in no uncertain terms and not left the listener to wonder,” the 12-page opinion states.
     The dissenting justices meanwhile said Toledo deserved a trial because she presented evidence that some viewers believed that she was disciplined for having sex with a minor.
     “The evidence that KBMT revised its fourth broadcast to clarify that Toledo was punished for engaging in sexual contact with ‘an adult patient’ is some evidence that even KBMT believed that an ordinary viewer could have concluded that the first three broadcasts referred to a pediatric patient,” Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote. “In fact, KBMT has taken the position in this case that its employees did not know that the patient was an adult until after the first three broadcasts.”

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