A controversial story on rowdy student behavior last spring break could provide a test case for a new cause of action in Tennessee. Nashville's WTVF(TV) was sued last fall by two young women who claim that their inclusion in the story on alcohol and sexual excesses in Panama City, Fla., portrayed them in a "false light."
The station sought dismissal of the lawsuit, but the judge allowed the case to continue and, according to local sources, will require that the station be proven to have acted recklessly or maliciously and published the offensive material widely. Proving the latter shouldn't be difficult since the story was aired in May (a sweeps month) and drew high ratings. Proving the former may be a challenge, considering that the women made only a fleeting appearance in the stories, according to News Director Mike Cutler.
A jury will decide whether that inclusion tainted the women, given that lewd behavior was the points of the story. More commonly brought defamation charges would require that the defendants be proven to have aired false reports.