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Taping lunch conversation does not violate salesmen's privacy

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Taping lunch conversation does not violate salesmen's privacy 05/17/99 CALIFORNIA--Reporters from NBC's "Dateline" who posed as investors and secretly videotaped…

Taping lunch conversation does not violate salesmen’s privacy


CALIFORNIA–Reporters from NBC’s “Dateline” who posed as investors and secretly videotaped a lunch meeting at an outdoor patio of a restaurant did not invade the privacy of the salesmen they met with, a state court of appeal in Los Angeles held in late April.

The appellate court upheld a Los Angeles trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit filed against NBC by two salesmen from SimTel Communications, a telephone service company, for a number of invasion of privacy claims, including eavesdropping and public disclosure of private facts, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The salesmen met with “Dateline” reporters who were posing as investors interested in SimTel’s product, but were in fact preparing a report on the practice of charging for services on what are supposed to be “toll-free” 800 lines, usually without the knowledge of the person billed for the telephone service. Portions of the secretly videotaped meeting with the salesmen appeared on an October 1994 “Dateline.”

In upholding the trial court’s dismissal of the salesmen’s claims, the appellate court concluded that the salesmen were not in a secluded, private area of the restaurant and made no attempt to conceal their conversation from waiters or others in the area, and thus, had no reason to expect that the contents of that conversation would not be overheard or repeated. The appellate court also noted that the subject matter discussed was business-related, rather than personal.

The appellate court further concluded that California’s statutory prohibition of eavesdropping or recording confidential communications was not applicable, again because the communication was not confidential.

The reporters, the appellate court stated, had no relationship with the salesmen that created a duty to disclose their true identities, nor were the salesmen able to show that they relied on those misrepresentations in a manner that altered the information provided to the reporters. (SimTel Communications v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc.; Media Counsel: Anne Egerton, Los Angeles)