TSN Broadcasts Inappropriate Trade Deadline Tweet Sparking Legal Controversy

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On Monday March 2, TSN mistakenly rebroadcast a distasteful tweet about Toronto Maple Leafs players Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, and Pheneuf’s wife – actress Elisha Cutherbert.  Now, the rebroadcast could cost TSN and the tweet’s author a “significant amount.”

TSN is a Canadian sports television network, widely known for its coverage of hockey and the NHL.  On Monday, the network was broadcasting live coverage of the NHL’s trade deadline on a segment called TradeCentre.  It encouraged viewers to live tweet their thoughts and comments using the hash tag #TradeCentre and ran a scroll on the bottom of the screen publishing tweets using that hashtag.

This type of interaction is not uncommon  and networks, including TSN, have filters in place to prevent inappropriate tweets from making on the air.  However, the filters at TSN missed a tweet from Anthony Adragna on Monday.  The tweet, which made it to the scroll, stated that Cuthbert had an adulterous relationship with Pheneuf’s teammate Lupul.  After appearing on air, a screen grab went viral on the internet.

The following day, the attorney for Lupul, Pheneuf, and Cuthbert issued a statement demanding an apology and “significant monetary damages” from both TSN and Adragna.  The statement further noted that failure to “immediately comply” would result in a lawsuit.  According to the attorney, the tweet itself was bad enough.  But, TSN’s rebroadcast made it much worse by giving broad circulation and credibility to the false statement.

Within hours, both issued apologies, but the status of the “monetary damages,” and thus a potential lawsuit, remain uncertain.  In TSN’s apology it stated that it “unreservedly apologized” for the inappropriate, disrespectful, and false tweet.  The apology was made on air, on twitter, and on its website.  Adragna apologized as well and deleted the tweet.  However, he is trying to place blame on TSN.  He stated that he took full responsibility for the words, but the “words actually getting on air is out of [his] control.”

After the apologies, Lupul, Pheneuf, and Cuthbert’s attorney commented that the “apology is great” and he would talk with his clients about “what more needs to be done to reduce and eliminate the harm.”  He said they may still seek damages including a more creative solution – requesting the network make a charitable donation.

If a lawsuit is filed, it will be an interesting case.  Canadian defamation law is stricter than that used in the U.S, but in both countries, merely rebroadcasting a tweet can still create liability.  There is limited to no case law on tweets and rebroadcasting them.  Because of this, a court will have to determine how much fault can be placed on TSN in light of the circumstances.

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