KTVU apologizes for airing racist pilot names, but Asiana says it will sue

KTVU apologizes, but still, the broadcast 'seriously damaged' Asiana Airline’s reputation, a company spokesman said. An anchor for the California TV station read incorrect and racially offensive names of the pilots.

This frame grab from video shows the scene after an Asiana Airlines flight crashed while landing at San Francisco Airport on Saturday, July 6, in San Francisco.

Asiana Airlines will sue a California TV station for broadcasting incorrect and racially offensive names of the pilots of Asiana Flight 214, a spokesman for the airline confirmed Monday. 

Asiana decided to sue KTVU of Oakland, Calif., to "strongly respond to its racially discriminatory report" that disparaged Asians, Asiana spokesman Lee Hyo-min said. The airline will probably file suit in US courts, she said, according to Bloomberg.

An anchor for KTVU read phony names of the Asiana pilots on air during a noon broadcast Friday. A graphic accompanied the report with the fake names, which were listed next to a picture of the burned-out plane that crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, killing three. 

The report “seriously damaged” Asiana’s reputation, Ms. Lee said. Although the airline initially said it was considering possible legal action against both KTVU and the National Transportation Safety Board, Lee said Asiana decided not to sue the NTSB because it believes that the TV station report, not the US federal agency, damaged the airline’s reputation.

Both KTVU and the NTSB, which incorrectly confirmed the report, have issued apologies for the mistake.

The NTSB says a summer intern erroneously confirmed the report when KTVU called to verify.

“In response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft,” the NTSB said in an apology Saturday.

The KTVU anchor apologized after a commercial break in the newscast Friday. In a formal apology, the TV station said it did not sound out the names before airing the report or adequately fact-check the report.

“We heard this person [the summer intern] verify the information without questioning who they were and then rushed the names on our noon newscast,” the station wrote.

Neither the station nor the NTSB commented on where the names originated, although the NTSB said it was not the intern who produced the fake names, CNN reports.

It is NTSB policy not to release or confirm to the media the names of crew members or people involved in transportation accidents. But the names of the two pilots at the controls during the crash have widely been reported as Lee Kang-kuk (or Lee Gang-guk) and Lee Jeong-min.

There were in all four pilots, who underwent questioning by a joint US and South Korean investigation team while in the US. They returned to South Korea on Saturday, and South Korean officials plan to conduct separate interviews with them, South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport said.

In the July 6 crash, a Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall on landing in San Francisco, lost its tail, and then skidded on the runway where it caught fire.

The NTSB has been criticized by a pilots union for releasing a voluminous amount of crucial information to the public, instead of disclosing findings over several months as it has in the past. Others have praised its transparency. 

“The NTSB says its hand has been forced somewhat by the Internet age, where misinformation and conspiracy theories can spread widely and quickly when official information is not forthcoming. But pilots and some aviation experts have worried that the information is leading the public to jump to wrong conclusions, unnecessarily ramping up pressure on the South Korea-based airline and its pilots,” the Monitor reported Sunday.

 Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.  

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