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NBC Isn't Off Hook for 'To Catch a Predator' Trap, Judge Rules

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on November 07, 2011 5:44 AM

NBC now needs to dig deep and use some legal resources to defend against inadvertent reality star Anurag Tiwari. Tiwari claims that the network's "To Catch a Predator" program was defamatory, invaded his privacy, and caused emotional distress.

Tiwari was a former engineer at Sun Microsystems. He fell into the "To Catch a Predator" trap in 2006.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is that law enforcement officials lure pedophiles to a house using fake identities. When the suspect appears, they are confronted by news cameras and host Chris Hanson who grills them about their actions. It can make for fairly entertaining television. Except, it can also be violating Tiwari's rights.

Besides the emotional distress claim, Tiwari alleged that the show's epilogue was defamatory, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Well, the former engineer lost his defamation claim. Federal Judge Edward M. Chen found that the show's epilogue was "substantially true."

Truth is generally a defense against claims of defamation. For example, a news report that says you're a thief is not defamatory if you are in fact a thief.

But NBC can't celebrate just yet. Judge Chen did not dismiss the rest of Tiwari's suit, which alleges that he suffered emotional distress as the result of the sensational arrest. And that he was questioned by police while he was restrained and in handcuffs.

Can he prevail? Under most intentional infliction of emotional distress claims the plaintiff must have suffered severe emotional distress as the result of conduct that goes beyond all bounds of human decency.

Sure, it seems that one of NBC's goals may have been to create dramatic television by puffing up his arrest. In the process, they probably humiliated him. But whether or not Anurag Tiwari will prevail against the show is questionable. But at least, the network is lucky that the "To Catch a Predator" defamation claim went away.

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