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WPXI Defamation Suit Defused
Pittsburgh— After seven years, a lawsuit against WPXI(TV) Pittsburgh, brought by a judge who claimed a report by the station defamed him by accusing him of racism, may be over. Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge Barry F. Feudale dismissed the lawsuit from Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, after determining that, for the most part, "this was not ... even a close case."
Manning was accused in 1995 by a security guard at Pittsburgh International Airport of using a racial epithet during a verbal dispute over a torn garment bag. Manning is white; the guard is black. She filed a complaint with state judicial authorities and was supported by some witnesses. Other allegations of racially insensitive language followed and drew the station's attention.
"No one disputes that television is show business, and few dispute that TV news is part of show business," Feudale said, noting that his first reaction "was that this story ... was unnecessarily crude, sensationalistic and repetitive." But, while sound-bite repetition "too often creates the impression that the claims or assertions are automatically validated," the judge said, "we cannot find that the WPXI story was maliciously, recklessly or deliberately defamatory."
In fact, Feudale said, reporters David Johnson and Scott Newman did not act recklessly either in deciding to report the story or in reporting the story and made considerable effort to interview all witness as well as Manning, who refused. So did his attorney.
News Director Pat Maday, who was not at the station when the original story aired, said the station is pleased with the verdict. Manning issued a statement that suggested he might appeal.
Noncompetes Endangered in D.C.
Washington— The D.C. City Council passed legislation that will ban noncompete clauses in on-air talent contracts in broadcasting, cable, satellite and feed services operating in the District. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which backed the measure, called the 13-0 vote a major victory and said it had already lined up sponsors in the Maryland legislature and would bring the protection to that state.
The D.C. legislation now goes to the office of Mayor Anthony Williams, who is expected to sign it within a 30-day review period. The bill also faces congressional review, although AFTRA says it expects no problems in the bill's enactment on the first of next year. The bill will not affect contracts currently in effect but will apply to all new contracts or extensions or renewals of existing contracts.
Florida Station Lends a Hand
West Palm Beach, Fla.— WPTV(TV) West Palm Beach stepped in last Wednesday for rival station WPBF(TV) so that colleagues of executive producer for production and WPBF veteran Scott Bunklemann could attend services for Bunklemann's 5-year-old son, Seth, who died the day after Thanksgiving after a six-month battle with lymphoma and leukemia.
"Competitiveness was not the key component here," said WPBF News Director Joe Coscia. "It was kindness. We did not have to shut the station down, and, with the help of WPTV, most our staff was able to attend the service. It was a fairly busy news day here, and they supplied us with dubs of several stories." WPTV General Manager Bill Peterson said the gesture originated with his station's General Sales Manager Donna Lane and News Director Peter Roghaar, who had heard of Bunklemann's loss.
Lawhead Replaces Wordlaw at WTVH
Syracuse, N.Y.— Jonathan Lawhead will replace Gary Wordlaw as president and general manager at Granite-owned CBS affiliate WTVH(TV) Syracuse. Lawhead has been vice president/general manager at Fox affiliate WXIX-TV Cincinnati. Wordlaw has joined the Viacom group and will run KSTW-TV, the UPN affiliate in Seattle.