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Federal appeals court dismisses privacy lawsuit against ABC News

By The Associated Press


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SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that ABC News trespassed at an Arizona medical laboratory when it clandestinely videotaped discussions with lab executives.

Lawyers for the lab said journalists for ABC's "PrimeTime Live" newsmagazine also invaded the executives' privacy because the journalists concealed that they were reporters and lied about their identities to gain access to the Scottsdale lab.

One ABC representative videotaped the discussions with a camera hidden in a wig for the "Rush to Read" segment, which focused on medical lab error rates in analyzing pap smears for cancer.

Owners of Medical Laboratory Management Consultants, which no longer exists, sued over the 1994 broadcast. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lab owners had no expectation of privacy and dismissed the suit Sept. 20.

The appeals court wrote that the owners invited the undercover journalists to the private area of the clinic and that they had no reason to believe their conversations with strangers would remain confidential. Nor was confidentiality requested, the court said.

"In Arizona, any person present at a conversation may record the conversation without obtaining the consent of the other party to the conversation," Judge Procter Hug Jr. wrote.

Hug added that the public interest in the news gathered for the ABC segment outweighed any possible offense that occurred.

The broadcast was about pap smear technicians and whether they make too many mistakes in the tests that can diagnose if women have cervical cancer.

ABC producer Rhondi Charleston posed as a representative of a fictitious women's health clinic and asked if the Arizona clinic would process 623 real pap smear samples over the weekend. Another ABC producer, Robbie Gordon, claimed she wanted to start a pap smear laboratory. Gordon accessed the clinic with another ABC employee who had a secret camera in a wig.

In its broadcast, ABC accused the clinic of certifying as normal five of the 23 allegedly abnormal pap smears that were examined before the Arizona clinic analyzed them. The clinic challenged the findings.

ABC won Peabody and Emmy awards for the segment.


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