The Utah Restaurant Association has filed suit against KTVX television, claiming a news crew was deceptive in recently videotaping food-handling practices at local eateries.
However, the association's 3rd District Court lawsuit, filed Thursday, did not stop KTVX from broadcasting the disputed footage on its News 4 Utah program that evening.The suit alleges KTVX staffers "deceitfully and illegally acted as if they were part of the board of health."
Channel 4 management contends reporter Mary Sawyers clearly identified herself as a TV journalist and obtained permission from managers at Gepetto's and Charlie Chow before rolling a camera in their kitchens as an inspector pointed out health violations.
"We did everything possible to be fair and accurate. I'm very proud of the report we did," said News 4 Utah director Tom Sides. "If there are violations in the restaurant, the public should know. What are they trying to hide?"
Restaurant association attorney Wesley Sine conceded the newscast was fair, but he intends to continue litigating in order to set guidelines for reporters who follow public officials into private places. The suit asks the court to bar the station from broadcasting the material, order the destruction of the tapes and award damages.
"The health department's job should be to help restaurants, not to be a vehicle of sensationalism that could put them out of business," Sine said.
He proposed that news media be required to seek advanced permission in writing from an affected restaurant before attempting to film a health inspector at work.
The Salt Lake City-County Health Department does nothing to help or hinder reporters who document restaurant inspections, officials said.
"We allow them to follow along and observe our actions," said agency spokeswoman Jana Carlson-Kettering. "We feel the public has a right to know what goes on behind the scenes."