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Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Browns sued by TV station after team cuts ties

Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- A TV station sued the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday after the team said it would break the station's contract to broadcast preseason games and other programming.

The Browns are upset because the station aired a 911 call involving the team owner's relatives.

WOIO-TV aired the call placed by owner Randy Lerner's sister, Nancy Fisher, after she found her 6-year-old daughter drowned in a creek on family property July 9.

Recordings of 911 calls are public records and are routinely made available to the media. One of the city's three other TV stations also aired a portion of the recording.

Browns vice president Michael Keenan sent a letter to Bill Applegate, WOIO's vice president and general manager, on July 13 informing him the team was terminating the contract, citing what he called irresponsible journalism.

"The recent coverage of the Lerner family tragedy is but the latest, albeit the most shocking and insensitive example of this destructive behavior," Keenan wrote.

He also accused the station's reporters of "sensationalized, overtly negative reporting on the organization and its players."

WOIO, a CBS affiliate, is seeking to keep the contract and to collect damages exceeding $25,000. The case was assigned to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Timothy McMonagle.

The station is in the second year of a three-year contract paying slightly more than $3.9 million for the rights to certain Browns programming.

"As far as we're concerned, there is a binding contract and WOIO has not breached the contract," said attorney John Kluznik, who represents the station.

Browns spokesman Bill Bonsiewicz said the matter is being handled by the team's attorneys.

"Training camp opens tomorrow for us. That's where our focus is," he said.

Lerner has said that no matter the outcome of the dispute, the preseason games will be shown live on a local station. The first game is Aug. 10 against Philadelphia.

Most of the team's regular-season games also are shown on the CBS station under NFL network contracts.