Judge Rules Suicide Aired on FOX Protected by First Amendment

https://www.theblot.com/judge-rules-suicide-aired-fox-protected-first-amendment-7715741

Judge Rules Suicide Aired on FOX Protected by First Amendment

Suicide on TV is acceptable

An Arizona judge has dismissed a civil lawsuit over the nationally televised suicide of a pursuit suspect that aired on the FOX News Channel two years ago.

In court documents filed last year, Maricopa County resident Angela Rodriguez claimed her children had suffered emotional distress after watching their father, JoDon Romero, commit suicide following a police chase in 2012.

FOX News covered the police pursuit live during its magazine show “Studio B With Shepard Smith.” The network used a helicopter feed from its Phoenix-owned station KSAZ-TV to cover the chase.

The pursuit ended in a field near Tonopah, Ariz., about 50 miles west of Phoenix. After Romero stumbled out of the maroon Dodge Caliber he had carjacked earlier in the day, a technician inside FOX News’ master control center activated a seven-second delay that would have prevented anything unscrupulous from going out on air.

The delay was never used. Romero raised the gun to his head, fired a single shot and fell in the middle of the field. A visibly disturbed Smith quickly urged the control room to “get off” the signal before the network cut to a commercial.

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Smith apologized for the error a few minutes later.

“That didn’t belong on TV,” Smith said. “We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV. And I personally apologize to you that that happened.”

KSAZ, the FOX-owned station providing the helicopter signal, used a similar delay to successfully keep the suicide from being broadcast on air, though the delay did not prevent it from being streamed online.

In court documents, Rodriguez claimed her children heard rumors at school about a suicide that was aired on live TV. The children, who initially did not realize their father was involved, were “severely traumatized” after finding recordings of the FOX News broadcast online.

Rodriguez said her children had suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress since viewing the footage, and that her two eldest children had not returned to school since.

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In a motion to dismiss filed with the court, News Corporation’s lawyers argued that the airing of the chase and the resulting suicide was protected by the First Amendment. The lawyers further argued that Rodriguez’s suit failed to prove that the broadcast had intentionally caused emotional distress and that any distress that was caused was brought by Romero’s actions, not the network.

Last week, Maricopa County Judge John Rea agreed and tossed out Rodriguez’s case. Her lawyers say they will appeal the judge’s decision.

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