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Asiana won't sue TV station over bogus names

By CNN Staff
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • KTVU is a local station based in Oakland, California
  • It would have been difficult to prove defamation, a First Amendment expert said
  • The airline called the news report "demeaning"

(CNN) -- Asiana Airlines will not pursue a lawsuit against a Bay Area TV station for allegedly damaging the company's image by reporting erroneous and offensive names of the pilots in the recent crash at San Francisco International Airport.

The company said Wednesday it wouldn't file a suit after KTVU offered an official apology. The bogus names, which phonetically spelled out phrases such as "Something Wrong" and "We Too Low," were read during KTVU's noon broadcast Friday. The airline called the report "demeaning" and said it was "reviewing possible legal action."

The Asiana 777 fell short of its approach and crashed on the runway at the airport on July 6. Three people were killed and more than 180 others were hurt. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. The early stage of the investigation has focused heavily on the actions of the crew during the landing attempt.

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Over the weekend, the Korean airline had said it would sue the NTSB and the station after an intern at the NTSB mistakenly confirmed "inaccurate and offensive" names as those of the pilots.

But at the beginning of the week, the airline seemed to have a change of heart.

A spokesman said the company didn't have plans to file a separate suit against the NTSB. The agency apologized for the "inaccurate and offensive" names, which it said were erroneously confirmed by a summer intern. A government official with knowledge of the situation said Monday the intern is no longer with the agency.

As for KTVU, in Oakland, anchor Tori Campbell read the names Friday. The news station, a CNN affiliate, later apologized on air and on its website. But the airline continued to move ahead with a defamation claim against the TV station until the Wednesday announcement.

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University, said "it's very difficult to conceive of a defamation suit prevailing here."

The key to such a case is to determine whether what was said damages an entity's reputation and causes injury, and what care was taken, if any, to prevent that, he told CNN.

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"Everyone who heard this understood it was a prank. And as ludicrous as the report was, at least the news station made a call to try to check," he said.

Paulson notes that the real names of pilots were not given in the news report.

"Where is the real damage? Yes, it was tasteless and undoubtedly it caused some short-term emotional distress, but nothing that rises to the level of litigation," he said.

It was not immediately clear who produced the fake names, but the NTSB said it was not the intern.

"The names were presented, by the station, to the intern for confirmation," NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. "The intern did not make up the names and provide them to the station."

The NTSB said it does not release or confirm the identities of crew members or other people involved in transportation accidents.

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