Asiana Airline drops suit over hoax names

Last updated 11:06 18/07/2013

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Asiana Airlines says it won't pursue legal action against a US TV station that aired incorrect, racially insensitive names of pilots on the plane that crashed in San Francisco.

The airline previously said its reputation had been damaged by KTVU-TV's report, which wrongly identified the pilots by names including "Captain Sum Ting Wong" and "Wi Tu Lo."

Asiana said on Monday it was planning a defamation lawsuit over the report, which an airline spokesman described as "mocking."

The US National Transportation Safety Board - which is investigating the July 6 crash - said a summer intern mistakenly confirmed the names, though Asiana said the suit would not include the agency because it was the station's broadcast that led to the harm.

But Asiana has announced a change of course.

Although the company had harsh words for the broadcast - calling the names "racially charged epithets" and "hateful words" that "profoundly disparaged Asiana, its employees and all Asians" - it said it would no longer seek legal recourse.

"Asiana Airlines, however, has decided to not pursue legal action as a result of a public apology by KTVU for the report in question and its determination to keep all of its resources dedicated to caring for the passengers and family members of Asiana flight 214 and supporting the investigation into the cause of the accident," the statement read.

Three people - high school students from China - were killed and more than 180 injured after the Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall and slammed into a runway at San Francisco International Airport.

An investigation into the crash was ongoing.

When Asiana initially announced its plans to sue, experts questioned whether it was a wise move. Some said the lawsuit would be an uphill battle for the airline to prove in court, as well as an ill-advised public relations move.

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"If any reputations were damaged in a serious way, they would be the reputations of the station and the professionals involved," Peter Scheer, executive director of the Bay Area-based First Amendment Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times this week.

Given its high profile in the news after the crash, Asiana would have a higher bar than a private citizen would to prove defamation, Pepperdine law professor Barry McDonald said.

The airline would probably have to prove "actual malice" - that KTVU knowingly aired wrong names or did so with reckless disregard for the truth.

Howard Bragman, a longtime PR professional and vice president of Reputation.com, said the company should have issued a strongly worded statement expressing shock and demanding an apology.

"It's not going to change anything in the minds of passengers or in the minds of the flying public," he said.

"As offensive as what the TV station did was, and unacceptable, we're talking mountains and molehills here - people dying versus people getting offended."

The broadcast sparked anger and criticism from many, including Asian American activists and a journalism group.

KTVU has apologized in statements and on the air, saying the station "made several mistakes when we received this information."

The NTSB said it had "taken appropriate action to deal with the situation," declining to elaborate because it is barred from discussing personnel matters.

Citing "a government official with knowledge of the situation," CNN reported Monday the intern who confirmed the names was no longer with the agency.

- MCT

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