Murder accused cries defamation

Last updated 13:15 07/12/2012
George Zimmerman
Reuters
George Zimmerman.

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A Florida man sued NBC on Thursday, saying the network intentionally edited and repeatedly aired a 911 call he made to police after he shot Trayvon Martin ‘‘to create the myth’’ that he was a racist.

Attorneys for George Zimmerman, who maintained he shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defence in February during a struggle, said the lawsuit seeking an undisclosed amount in damages was filed in the same central Florida court where he will stand trial in June for murder.

‘‘NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, so it set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,’’ the defamation lawsuit said.

‘‘NBC created this false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s owns words, splicing together disparate parts of the (police) recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.’’

The edit in question, which aired on the network’s flagship ‘Today’ morning show in April, made it appear that Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, told police that Martin was black without being asked.

In fact, the full tape reveals that Zimmerman only did so when responding to a question posed by a dispatcher.

Former NBC News president Steve Capus, who stepped down this month, told Reuters in April that the edit was a ‘‘mistake, not deliberate’’ misrepresentation.

Capus said at the time that a producer made the editing error, and that the network’s editorial controls - including senior broadcast producer oversight, script editors and often legal and standards department reviews of sensitive material to be broadcast - simply missed the selective editing of the phone call.

The network apologised to its viewers in a statement, and two NBC news staffers named as defendants in the lawsuit were fired.

But the complaint said the network never apologised to Zimmerman ‘‘for deliberately portraying him as a hostile racist who targeted Martin due to his race’’.

NBC News officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

The misleading audio edit of the call led to significant pressure on the network from critics who claimed it had exacerbated already inflamed racial tension surrounding the case.

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