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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Defamation in Report on Late Wedding Videos

(CN) - A wedding videographer was not defamed by a TV station that ran an investigative story about her dissatisfied customers, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled.

WTMJ Channel 4 ran an investigative story in February 2006 about a couple named Jana and Chad Uebele who complained that they had to wait seven months after their wedding to receive a finished video of it from Angie's Wedding Videos.

Robin and Ryan Sliga also told Channel 4 that Angie's took more than a year to finish their video.

A video brochure for the service, run part-time by Angela Terry, estimated a completion time of 10 to 12 weeks.

Reporter John Mercure interviewed Terry at her home and said, "When someone pays you a thousand dollars and gives you their baby pictures and signs you up to capture their most precious day and you don't deliver, some people are going to think that's a scam."

"End of interview," Terry replied, making a throat-cutting gesture. "Good-bye. OK, you can leave now."

Terry placed her hand in front of the camera lens while her son tried to force Mercure out of the house. The cameras kept rolling until Terry shut the door on Mercure.

Terry sued Journal Broadcast Corp., Mercure and 12 others for defamation, libel and infliction of emotional distress.

In her lawsuit, Terry complained about several statements Mercure made in the broadcast. He allegedly told Terry, "You're robbing these people. You're cheating these people."

Mercure also asked, "how is this not a scam?" and said, "Angela Terry was facing criminal charges," according to the complaint.

Elmer Prenzlow, a state consumer affairs official, allegedly called it "an absolutely heartbreaking story, whenever you see a young couple who is victimized as a part of their wedding."

"I think they absolutely got ripped off," Prenzlow said, according to the complaint.

A Milwaukee judge dismissed all of her claims against the media defendants, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed on Oct. 15.

"First, the statement that Terry was 'was facing criminal charges' was substantially true," Judge Joan Kessler wrote for the court. "Prenzlow, a consumer affairs specialist employed by the state of Wisconsin, testified that Terry's conduct could potentially constitute a violation of Wisconsin consumer and criminal laws."

Terry also failed to show that the TV station's statements about her were defamatory and that she was portrayed as a "freakish and dangerous person the public should avoid."

"A majority of the statements Terry complains about use some variation of the terms 'rob,' 'ripped off,' 'cheat,' 'victim' or 'scam,'" Kessler wrote. "The media defendants maintain that these statements are opinions based in fact, and are therefore not actionable. We agree that all of these terms, in the context in which they were used, convey statements of opinion that are not defamatory."

The court also found that Terry was not portrayed as "freakish" in a promotional clip that allegedly used scary music and shows Terry making the throat-slashing gesture before she and her son told Mercure to leave their home.

"Truth is an absolute defense in a defamation action," Kessler wrote. "Terry cannot maintain a defamation action for how she feels she was portrayed."

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