NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · OKLAHOMA · Privacy · Feb. 16, 2006
Video clips of alleged rape are not invasion of privacy
Feb. 16, 2006 · An Oklahoma television station and one of its journalists are not liable for invasion of privacy for airing a news story that included clips of a videotape of an alleged rape, a federal judge ruled Feb. 10.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton of Oklahoma City dismissed an invasion-of-privacy claim from the victim, ruling that the public interest in the story outweighed the privacy interests of the woman, who could not be identified in the video.
Although the videotaped activity “was certainly of an intensely private and personal nature,” the portions of the tape shown did not reveal “any publicly identifiable facts” and are “related to a matter of legitimate public concern,” Heaton wrote. “Part of the story’s newsworthiness involved the fact that the alleged rapist had videotaped the incident.”
The alleged attacker, the victim’s ex-husband who had been charged with two other rapes, videotaped the 2003 incident and left the tape at the home of the victim, who claims she gave the tape to the Norman Police Department only after she was assured that it would remain private. An officer allowed KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City to copy portions of the tape.
The station aired three clips of the videotape during a two-and-a-half minute report that also included an interview with a police officer and a clip of a previous arrest of the alleged rapist. The videotape clips showed only the victim’s feet and calves, as well as the attacker’s face and portions of his body. She claims that although the broadcast did not identify her, once charges were filed someone could look at the court file and identify her by name.
The alleged attacker denied the incident and the court said the videotape showing the attack strengthened the credibility of the prosecution’s case.
“While the court might well have made a different editorial decision regarding the airing of the videotape, it may not appropriately engage in after-the-fact judicial ‘blue-penciling’ which might have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press to determine what is a matter of legitimate public concern,” the court said. “The undisputed facts of this case, while raising questions about the editorial judgment of defendants, do not give rise to the tort of invasion of privacy by publication of private facts.”
The reporter selected the clips by focusing on the identity of the attacker, said Robert Nelon, an attorney for the station. The videotape, “as long as it has a substantial connection to reporting on a newsworthy event,” is a matter of editorial judgment. The court “ought not to engage in editorial judgments on whether it was wise or unwise to include the video in a news report — that decision rests with the journalists.”
There was a dispute about whether there was an agreement between the victim and the police officer regarding the privacy of the videotape, Nelon said. It is not clear whether the police officer who allowed KOCO to record portions of the tape disclosed if there was any privacy agreement between the police and the victim.
(Anderson v. Blake, Media Counsel: Robert Nelon, Oklahoma City, Okla.) — KV