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Station Break

Emergency response

Last week, the Radio-Television News Directors Association joined Oregon news leaders in opposing legislation in that state that could give law enforcement the discretion to keep recordings of emergency phone calls from the media. The legislation passed the state House by a wide margin earlier this month and now moves to the state Senate.

Proponents of the legislation cite privacy concerns and concerns that people involved in tragedies will be exploited or forced to relive events. The law would allow the release of transcripts only if a caller consents or if an appeals process determines the public interest outweighs the right to privacy.

Four Oregon news directors, including former RTNDA Chairman John Sears of KPTV(TV) Portland, have testified against the proposed law. Sears also joined RTNDA President Barbara Cochran in an entreaty to state senators and Gov. John Kitzhaber, arguing that the legislation could "erode the role of the press as an effective check on the power vested in law-enforcement agencies."

"Although individuals who call 911 may prefer anonymity," Sears and Cochran wrote, "in this world of media publicity and litigation, there is no realistic expectation of anonymity and/or privacy when a person contacts the police with information. Moreover, while the bill would afford access to transcripts of the tapes, such transcripts offer no substitute for audio recordings. Absent inflection and timing, a true assessment of what has transpired is difficult if not impossible to make."

Unauthorized entry

Forget news, advertising and marketing. What TV stations may need most are foreign-relations advisers. Web sites at two Allbritton-owned stations, ABC affiliates KTUL(TV) Tulsa, Okla., and WCIV(TV) Charleston, S.C., were invaded last weekend, apparently by a group of Chinese hackers (several Web sites have been hit around the country, ostensibly in retaliation for the spy-plane incident).

Tulsa was hit hardest, with files deleted and messages posted about American imperialism and some chauvinistic remarks. KTUL's Web site was down for several days. Files were also deleted at WCIV, but the station was back up in a matter of minutes. KTUL Webmaster Kevin King, who had to make an early exit from his nephew's birthday party May 6 to fix things, said the station it was in the process of switching over to a new server anyway.

"The hackers went in and erased everything," King said. "If we hadn't backed everything up Friday night, we would have lost a great deal."

Robert Forsyth, Webmaster at WJLA-TV Washington and overseer of all the Allbritton Web sites, said that, despite what the company believed were sophisticated safety measures, a small part of its server base was vulnerable to "script kitties," which search millions of Internet addresses for a target. "The Internet is about the open exchange of information," he said. "With that comes these vulnerabilities."

Stock shocker

Denver authorities are investigating financial dealings among former KDVR(TV) Denver Managing Editor Scott McDonald and co-workers, as well as local newsmakers and public-relations executives. Among those accusing McDonald is station consumer reporter Tom Martino. Martino acknowledged the irony of a consumer reporter's allegedly being a victim of fraud but said he had been pressured by McDonald, who was essentially his boss, into lending McDonald money for investment shortly after Martino joined the station. Though saying he was not intimidated, Martino believed McDonald's position gave him credibility. Later, Martino said, "I put a private detective on him" before deciding to sue McDonald for fraud.

McDonald told B&C that, as of midweek, there had been no civil or criminal charges filed, only a complaint prompting an investigation. He would not comment on why he left the station but insisted that it was his choice. He said he was liquidating his assets and trying to repay the money given toward investments. He denied any fraud and asserted that the investments were legitimate.

Memento mori

Last week, KOCO-TV Oklahoma City's Terry Watkins aired the story of her lengthy correspondence with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Watkins, who has covered the story from the start, asked more than two dozen questions of the convicted killer in her most recent correspondence and received about 10 responses.

All news is local. Contact Dan Trigoboff at 301-260-0923, e-mail
or fax 413-254-4133.