Giraffe satire can go back up on Web site

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AMITE, La. — A Web site that satirizes news can run a fictional story about a giraffe attack at Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, a state district judge ruled yesterday.

After a two-hour hearing, state District Judge Beth Wolfe struck down a temporary restraining order signed March 2 that had called for the removal of the story from the site, Hammond Action News.

Wolfe also ordered Global Wildlife to pay Nicholas Brilleaux, the owner of Hammond Action News, $500 in attorney fees and court costs.

Noting that Global Wildlife has legitimate concerns that some readers may think the giraffe-attack story is genuine news, Wolfe nonetheless said in court that the story is satire and protected speech.

“I don't think there is any malice of intent from either party,” Wolfe said in court. “I think the bottom line is: This is protected.”

Brilleaux posted a fictional story Feb. 25 claiming a giraffe had killed a tour guide at the wildlife refuge in Tangipahoa Parish.

Global Wildlife's attorney, Robert McComiskey, told the court that as a nonprofit foundation, Global Wildlife is a private entity entitled to protection from defamation under state law. Global Wildlife's education and development director, Christina Cooper, and its advisory board president, Ken Matherne, testified that they received phone calls from people who thought the story was true.

“I think this article does nothing but instill fear,” Cooper said on the stand.

The wildlife center's main visitors are children, either with their families or on school field trips, who are allowed to feed giraffes by hand as part of the tour, Cooper testified.

Brilleaux's attorney, Parker Layrisson, countered that his client was making a joke using Tangipahoa Parish's well-known wildlife center to satirize the Feb. 24 death of a Sea World trainer killed by a killer whale.

“This is a sensitive kind of case,” Layrisson said. “There is nothing worse than being the butt of a joke, except for being the butt of a joke that you don't get.”

After the hearing, Brilleaux declined to comment but said he would repost the giraffe attack story on the Web site.

The site has begun adding disclaimers to some of its stories, noting: “This article is not a statement of fact. The content of Hammond Action News is purely satirical and for entertainment purposes only.”

Cooper offered a prepared statement after the hearing that said the wildlife center asked three times for Brilleaux to remove the giraffe story.

“Mr. Brilleaux's article was affecting our nonprofit's mission to serve the community and affecting public confidence in our ability to provide a safe, family-friendly experience,” Cooper said in the statement.

Cooper said she was not prepared to say whether Global Wildlife would appeal.

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