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WTVT Wins Appeal
Tampa, Fla.— Florida's District Court of Appeal has thrown out a 2000 $425,000 jury award to a former WTVT(TV) Tampa reporter who said the Fox-owned station tried to distort her investigative report. Jane Akre and husband and then-partner Steve Wilson claimed that the station fired them after they refused to allow their investigative piece on cattle hormone BGH to be distorted under pressure from drug manufacturer Monsanto. The award was for Akre; the jury did not issue a judgment for Wilson.
The appeals court said Akre failed to state a claim under federal whistleblower protections. The court found that what the FCC has referred to as its "news-distortion" policy—opposing the intentional falsification of news—has not been published or put into a necessary law, rule or regulation.
The station said it was completely vindicated by the trial court's reversal, which Akre called a legal technicality.
Ice Topples Tower
Charleston-Huntington, W.Va.— Ice storms last week felled the tower at WVAH-TV. "We were blessed that no one was injured" said News Director Terry Cole, adding that station engineers had been onsite only minutes before. The 1,500-foot structure was the tallest in the state, he said.
Cole said huge chunks of ice—"football size"—could be seen around the tower's wreckage. The Fox affiliate, with the help of Charter Cable, managed to restore service to cable viewers through fiber-optic and microwave links, and Cole said the station owner Sinclair "will do everything we can" to restore full service as soon as possible. It expects to have a temporary tower operating within two weeks.
Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow
Chicago— WMAQ-TV anchor Mark Suppelsa—considered a station star and possible heir apparent to lead anchor Warner Saunders—ended his relationship with his employer of 10 years, following unsuccessful negotiations for a new contract. His last broadcast was last Friday. The station wished Suppelsa well.
Agent Todd Musburger said Suppelsa's talent and the shortage of seasoned male anchors gives his client several options. Suppelsa will likely announce his next move this week. Speculation includes jobs inside and outside the Chicago market. NBC retains rights of first refusal.
Noncompetes Survive in Maryland
Baltimore— Maryland legislators have rejected a bill, backed by the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, that would have outlawed noncompete clauses for television and radio contracts in the state. A bill proposing the law was voted down in the state Senate Finance Committee. AFTRA is expected to lobby for the proposal again next year.
The controversial clauses—sometimes mandating as long as a year between jobs—have been opposed by on-air talent as restricting their ability to change jobs within a market, sometimes even if the person has been fired. But management favors the clauses to protect their investments in promoting on-air talent and cite freedom of contract. AFTRA has had greater success in other states, including Massachusetts, Illinois, Maine and the District of Columbia.
WCCO Launches Newscast
Minneapolis— WCCO-TV has begun a weekend morning newscast. The hour program airs Saturday at 8-9 a.m., sandwiched between CBS News' Saturday Early Show and the two-hour Nickelodeon kids block. The station is looking for a permanent anchor, but John Reger will anchor in the meantime. Brian Gotter will be the show's permanent meteorologist.
A Worthy Tribute
Los Angeles— KCAL-TV plans to celebrate the 42nd birthday of former Los Angeles Lakers great, No. 42 James Worthy, by distributing 19,000 fans with Worthy's face on them to fans at the Staples Center this Thursday night. Said KCAL-TV sports anchor Alan Massengale, "It was every opponent's nightmare to have James Worthy in your face, so it's only fitting that every Lakers fan will have James in their face when the [Detroit] Pistons come to town."