The Ottawa Citizen flatly rejected the legal notice from the National Hockey League team, saying the video shot surreptitiously by an Uber driver was circulating on social media when the paper decided to report on it.
Editor-in-Chief Michelle Richardson also countered allegations contained in the notice signed by team lawyers, which asserted the footage of players badmouthing the club and a member of its coaching staff violated their privacy under provincial law and did not contain information of public interest.
"The public interest in the Senators as an organization extends beyond the team’s performance on the ice," Richardson said in a statement, adding that the paper did not view the sharing of the video as a privacy violation.
"The organization is involved in one of the biggest development projects in Ottawa’s history, a project that hinges on the Senators being here to play in a downtown arena. On-ice performance, ticket sales, attendance, discord in the locker room and public support of the organization are all relevant when it comes to discussing the overall health of the team."
In the legal notice sent to Richardson on Wednesday, lawyers blasted the newspaper for its decision to share the surreptitiously shot video on its website.
The five-minute clip, which shows seven Senators players ridiculing Senators assistant coach Martin Raymond and scornfully discussing the team’s penalty-killing performance, was shot without the players’ knowledge by the driver of the Uber vehicle they were riding in while on the road in Phoenix, Ariz. The video shared by the Citizen also appeared on websites of other publications owned by Postmedia Network Inc., the paper’s parent company.
"The Citizen’s mass publication of the video is a clear and obvious violation of the rights of the Senators players involved under Ontario law and has damaged the Ottawa Senators," the letter reads. "The Ottawa Senators demand that the Citizen immediately remove the video from the Internet."
The notice also asserts that the newspaper published the video while fully aware that it had been shot without consent, arguing that the contents were of no "genuine public interest."
The players captured in the video released a statement Monday apologizing for their remarks, while also clearly stating that the footage was both shot and shared without their permission. Individual players have since spoken out affirming their support for Raymond and saying they’re trying to put the saga behind them.
An Uber spokesperson said the recording was a "clear violation" of the company’s community guidelines, adding that Uber had helped to have the video taken down.
The notice to the Citizen noted that the video had already been pulled from YouTube on the grounds that it was shot in secret.
Scholars and industry observers voiced concern about the incident, calling it a clear violation of the players’ privacy.
Senators Chief Operating Officer Nicolas Ruszkowski agreed, saying the legal notice to the Citizen was meant to protect the team’s best interests.
"Martin Raymond and our players have earned our support through years of hard work, leadership and devotion to their community," Ruszkowski said in a statement. "Privacy is paramount, and we won’t allow a precedent to be set in which peoples’ reputations can be impaired by voyeuristic journalism."
Ruszkowski declined to comment on the Citizen’s intention to keep the video online.